12 Apr 2019

Julian Assange appears in London court after arrest

7:50 am on 12 April 2019

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has appeared in court in London after his arrest and found guilty of failing to surrender to the court.

Julian Assange gestures as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019.

Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London. Photo: Victoria Jones / PA via AP

He was arrested by British police on Thursday after Ecuador withdrew its asylum which had allowed him to take refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for the last seven years.

He was found guilty at Westminster Magistrates' Court of failing to surrender to the court.

He now faces US federal conspiracy charges related to one of the largest ever leaks of government secrets, and the prospect of extradition to the United States.

The UK will decide whether to extradite him in response to allegations by the Department for Justice that he conspired with former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to download classified databases.

He faces up to five years in US prison if convicted on the charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

Julian Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said they would be fighting the extradition request. She said it set a "dangerous precedent" where any journalist could face US charges for "publishing truthful information about the United States".

She said she had visited him in the police cells where he thanked supporters and said: "I told you so."

What happened in court?

After his arrest, the Australian national was initially taken to a central London police station before appearing in court.

Dressed in a black suit and black polo shirt, he waved to the public gallery and gave a thumbs up. He pleaded not guilty to the 2012 charge of failing to surrender to the court.

Finding him guilty of that charge, District Judge Michael Snow said the 47-year-old's behaviour was that of "a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest".

He sent him to Southwark Crown Court for sentencing, where he faces up to 12 months in prison.

The court also heard that during his arrest at the embassy he had to be restrained and shouted: "This is unlawful, I am not leaving."

Barrister Jennifer Robinson (centre) speaks to media outside Westminster Magistrates Court, alongside WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson.

Barrister Jennifer Robinson (centre) speaks to media outside Westminster Magistrates Court, alongside WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson. Photo: AP

What secrets did WikiLeaks reveal?

Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and it published secret official information including hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, infuriating the United States and other countries.

His supporters see him as a hero who challenges censorship and champions free speech. Others say he risked security by revealing secret documents.

In July 2010, WikiLeaks released more than 91,000 documents, most of them secret US military reports about the war in Afghanistan. In October of that year, it released another 400,000 classified military files chronicling the war in Iraq from 2004 to 2009.

Why was Julian Assange in Ecuador's embassy in London?

In November 2011, London's High Court said Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes after accusations by two former WikiLeaks volunteers in 2010.

After losing an appeal, he took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in June 2012 to avoid being extradited. He was granted political asylum by the anti-American left-wing former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa.

He remained in the embassy after Sweden dropped the investigation against him in 2017, fearing the United States wanted to prosecute him.

Sweden's then chief prosecutor Marianne Ny said in 2017 that the Swedish probe could be reopened should the situation change.

In elections in 2017, Mr Correa was replaced as Ecuadorean president by Lenin Moreno who has since moved Ecuador's foreign policy to a more US-friendly stance. He has been openly critical of the WikiLeaks co-founder in recent months, calling him an inherited problem and accusing him of violating the rules of his asylum.

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