Assange is dragged out and arrested after years in embassy

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Assange is dragged out and arrested after years in embassy


Thumbs up: Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates Court in London. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Thumbs up: Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates Court in London. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

He looked like a hermit. His hair was white, long and straggly, as was his beard.

After spending 2,487 days in self-imposed confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, Julian Assange emerged at just after 10am yesterday into the sunlight and on to London’s streets.

It was not, however, the triumphal exit he would have envisaged after almost seven years indoors, with only the occasional appearance on the embassy’s balcony offering him fresh air.

Instead, Assange, 47 but appearing many years older, was dragged from the building in handcuffs and into a waiting police van.

“The UK must resist,” he shouted as he was bundled away, his statement caught on video by a camera operator from Ruptly, a news agency subsidiary of the Russian government-funded news service RT.

Some 45 minutes earlier, police had arrived at the embassy in Hans Crescent, across the road from Harrods, to arrest the WikiLeaks founder.

Jaime Marchan, the ambassador, had invited the police into the building and told them he planned there and then to issue his unwelcome guest with documents showing his asylum status was being revoked with immediate notice.

While officers waited in a side room, the ambassador met with Assange and broke the news. Assange, dressed in a black suit and black shirt, did not take it well.

As police were summoned to make the arrest, Assange made a run for it. He bolted past the officers, attempting to reach the sanctity of his bedroom on a raised ground floor.

He didn’t make it.

At Westminster magistrates’ court yesterday, a few hours after the arrest, James Hines QC described the ensuing mayhem.

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“At 10am, they [officers] had met Mr Assange. The officers tried to introduce themselves to him, intending to execute the arrest warrant, but he barged past them as he tried to return to his private room,” he said.

“He resisted arrest, shouting ‘This is unlawful’ and had to be restrained. Officers were struggling to handcuff him. They received assistance from other officers outside and he was handcuffed, saying, ‘This is unlawful I’m not leaving.'”

In the bedlam, Assange grabbed a book by the US essayist Gore Vidal and was clutching it for the cameras as he was taken outside and into the waiting police van.

From the embassy, Assange was driven to a police station in London’s West End, assessed by medics and deemed fit to appear in court.

The arrest was announced by the Metropolitan Police, the first of a series of coordinated statements.

Ecuador had had enough of their guest. It didn’t aid Assange that in 2017 his backer President Rafael Correa had been voted out of power in a general election and replaced by Lenin Moreno.

In a withering put-down, Mr Moreno said Assange had been “discourteous and aggressive” and his behaviour had made his continued asylum “unsustainable and no longer viable”.

“The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behaviour of Mr Assange,” Mr Moreno said.

Threatened

He complained Assange had blocked security cameras, mistreated guards and as recently as two days ago had “threatened the government of Ecuador”.

Maria Paula Romo, the Ecuadorian interior minister, went further, making claims that suggested Assange had descended into animal-like behaviour after seven years.

“During the government of the former president Rafael Correa, they tolerated things like Mr Assange putting faeces on the walls of the embassy and other types of behaviour of this kind that is far removed from the minimum respect a guest should have in a country which has generously welcomed him,” said Ms Romo.

Just as Ecuador was denouncing Assange, the Met explained he had been arrested not only for failing to surrender to bail in 2012 – he was wanted in Sweden on rape charges – but also detained on behalf of the “US authorities” for extradition.

In Sweden, authorities said they had been kept in the dark over the planned arrest. The sex charges were dropped years after he had gone into hiding.

One of Assange’s alleged Swedish victims said she feared reprisals.

“Too bad my case could never be investigated properly, but the arrest will not change this, the case has already been closed,” she told ‘The Times’, adding: “I am fine, a bit nervous my family will be threatened again, but OK.”

The arrest on behalf of the US took place at the police station at precisely 10.53am. Assange had always spoken of his fears the US government was after him and now it was happening. His detention was about to turn into an almighty political bust-up.

Just before 1pm, Assange was brought before the court.

Outside, his devotees had begun to gather, among them Dame Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer.

They were incensed that a man they saw as a whistleblower, who had revealed astonishing secrets of America’s war on terror, was in British custody. Pamela Anderson, the ‘Baywatch’ actress and regular visitor to Assange at the embassy, tweeted: “How could you Equador? (Because he exposed you). How could you UK? Of course – you are America’s bitch and you need a diversion from your idiotic Brexit bull****.”

In court, Mr Hines explained that Assange was accused in the US of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a US Army intelligence analyst based in Iraq, to “disclose classified documents”.

Manning (31) is in jail in Virginia after refusing to answer question relating to Assange before a grand jury.

As the extradition hearing unfolded, US authorities were making public a previously sealed seven-page indictment in which it was alleged that in 2010 Assange “agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password” for Department of Defense computers.

Assange’s barrister Liam Walker said his client was justified in failing to surrender because he knew the extradition attempt was “waiting in the wings”.

In a move that incensed District Judge Michael Snow, Mr Walker then called into question the impartiality of Emma Arbuthnot, the chief magistrate of England and Wales, who had overseen a previous hearing.

Laughable

“His assertion that he has not had a fair hearing is laughable and I’m afraid his behaviour is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” said Judge Snow.

With that, Assange was convicted for failing to surrender to bail while the extradition proceedings will drag on. He was led away and remanded in custody.

Outside court, his lawyer Jennifer Robinson told supporters: “Since 2010 we’ve warned that Julian Assange would face extradition to the US for his publishing activities. Unfortunately, today we have been proved right.”

She added that Assange had asked her to thank his supporters and said: “I told you so.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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