Julian Assange came into the limelight in 2010, when WikiLeaks published thousands of diplomatic cables and military documents handed to it by the rogue US Army serviceperson Chelsea Manning. The leaks also included a chilling POV video of a US Apache helicopter in Iraq gunning down 12 people, including two Reuters journalists.
In that same year, Sweden announced that it was investigating Assange in a case of rape and molestation, an accusation brought forth by two women. It went on to issue an extradition warrant against Assange, who was in Britain at the time. Attempting to fight the Swedish warrant, Assange approached a British court in 2011. The ruling did not go in his favour, and he subsequently lost an appeal in the United Kingdom Supreme Court in June 2012.
Out on bail, Assange sought refuge at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, the Latin American country which was at the time led by the leftist leader Rafael Correa. Ecuador formally accepted his request for asylum in August 2012. Assange had been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London ever since — until his arrest on Thursday.
For jumping bail, the Westminster Magistrates Court in 2012 issued a warrant for his arrest if he left the Ecuadorian embassy. Assange maintained that the charges were false, and only a ploy to have him extradited to the United States. A United Nations panel in 2016 spoke in favour of Assange, and chastised Britain and Sweden for detaining him.
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Holed up in the embassy, Assange continued his controversial investigative work. In the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, WikiLeaks released compromising emails hacked from servers of the Democratic National Committee. This precipitated an adverse situation for presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who at the time was in a close race with Republican candidate Donald Trump. US investigators now believe that WikiLeaks acted in coordination with Russian intelligence. In November 2018, it was accidentally revealed that the US was also gearing up to charge Assange.
Meanwhile, elections in Ecuador in 2017 saw the Assange-sympathetic Correa being replaced by Lenin Moreno, who ran on an agenda of a more conciliatory approach towards the West. Conditions for Assange in the London embassy soon worsened, with restrictions on the number of visitors he could have. His access to the Internet was cut off. In 2018, seeking to reduce animosity with Britain, Moreno offered Assange Ecuadorian citizenship, and a chance to relocate to a safer location. Britain, nonetheless, maintained that it would not provide Assange diplomatic immunity.
The saga took a new turn on Thursday, when a weary Ecuador finally handed over Assange to British authorities, who detained him under the 2012 warrant, as well as causing him to be “further arrested” under an extradition request from the US. Former President Correa called Assange’s handing over “a crime that humanity will never forget”.