LONDON – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces a charge of computer intrusion in America after he was arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday.
The 47-year-old was taken into custody by the capital’s Metropolitan Police for failing to surrender to court in the UK and on a US extradition warrant.
He was held at a central London police station before appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court on Thursday afternoon.
Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador in 2012 and had remained sheltered in the embassy for seven years to avoid arrest.
Officers were “invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum,” Scotland Yard said.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said asylum was withdrawn because Assange had violated aspects of security in the embassy.
“The disrespectful and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the discourteous and threatening statements of his allied organization, against Ecuador, and above all, the transgression of international conventions, have brought the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and unfeasible,” he said.
“He installed electronic and distortion equipment that was not allowed, blocked the security cameras of the Ecuadorian mission in London, attacked and mistreated the guards of the diplomatic headquarters, and accessed the security files of our embassy without permission,” he added.
Moreno said Ecuador had received a written assurance from UK authorities that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could suffer torture or the death penalty.
UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid said on Twitter that Assange is “rightly facing justice in the UK” and added that “no one is above the law.”
Wikileaks accused Ecuador of acting “in violation of international law” in a statement online.
The organization said on Twitter: “This man is a son, a father, a brother. He has won dozens of journalism awards.
“He’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2010. Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimize and imprison him.”
The US Department of Justice said Assange was arrested in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion “for agreeing to break a password to a classified US government computer.”
If he is found guilty he could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The charge relates to his alleged role in “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
He is accused of conspiring with former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.
During one exchange it is alleged that Manning told Assange: “After this upload, that’s all I really have got left” to which he replied: “Curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”
Assange also faces a charge of failing to surrender to the UK court on June 29, 2012, to which he has pleaded not guilty according to reports in the British press.
Assange rose to international attention in 2010 after WikiLeaks published leaked military information provided by former United States Army soldier Chelsea Manning, which prompted the US government to launch a criminal investigation into the publisher.
In November that year, Sweden requested his extradition over allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he denied.
He also expressed concern he would be extradited from Sweden to the US because of his role in the Manning leaks.
Assange surrendered himself to UK police around a month later and was held in custody for 10 days before being released on bail.
When he was unable to challenge the extradition proceedings, he breached bail and in August 2012 was granted asylum by Ecuador.
Sweden has since withdrawn its extradition request, but a UK arrest warrant remained in force as Assange had failed to surrender after breaking bail conditions.