By Danica Kirka The Associated Press
LONDON — British police arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday, after the South American nation decided to revoke the political asylum that had given him sanctuary for almost seven years.
London police said they were invited into the embassy by Ecuador’s ambassador. Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 after he was released on bail while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped.
Assange has been under U.S. Justice Department scrutiny for years for Wikileaks’ role in publishing thousands of government secrets and was an important figure in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe as investigators examined how WikiLeaks obtained emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic groups.
Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, said his government made a “sovereign decision” to revoke Assange’s political asylum due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life.”
“Today I announce that that the discourteous and aggressive behaviour of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” Moreno said in a video released on Twitter.
Video posted online by Ruptly, a news service of Russia Today, showed several men in suits carrying Assange out of the embassy building and loading him into a police van while uniformed British police officers formed a passageway. Assange sported a full beard and slicked-back grey hair.
His lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said in tweet that he had been arrested for breaching his bail conditions and in relation to a U.S. extradition request.
Prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia have inadvertently disclosed the existence of a sealed criminal complaint against Assange, though no details have been publicly announced.
WikiLeaks quickly drew attention to U.S. interest in Assange.
“Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to de-humanise, de-legitimize and imprison him,” said in a tweet over a photo of Assange’s smiling face.
Assange had not come out of the embassy for almost seven years because he feared arrest and extradition to the United States for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks. Although Sweden has dropped the sexual assault case that first led to Assange’s arrest in Britain, U.K. authorities said he would be rearrested if he ever left the embassy because he skipped bail in the original case.
London’s Metropolitan Police Service said Assange was taken into “custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is possible.”
His arrest came a day after WikiLeaks accused the Ecuador’s government of an “extensive spying operation” against Assange.
WikiLeaks claims that meetings with lawyers and a doctor inside the embassy over the past year were secretly filmed.
WikiLeaks said in a tweeted statement that Ecuador illegally terminated Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law.”
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked Moreno for breaking the impasse, saying on Twitter that Assange “is no hero and no one is above the law.”