Julian Paul Assange (born 3 July 1971) is an Australian editor, activist, publisher and journalist. He is best known as the editor-in-chief and founder of WikiLeaks, which publishes submissions of secret information, news leaks and classified media from anonymous news sources and whistleblowers.
Assange was a hacker as a teenager, then a computer programmer before becoming internationally known for his work with WikiLeaks and making public appearances around the world speaking about freedom of the press, censorship, and investigative journalism.
WikiLeaks became internationally well known in 2010 when, with its partners in the news media, it began to publish U.S. military and diplomatic documents. Bradley Manning has since been arrested on suspicion of supplying the cables to WikiLeaks. U.S. Air Force documents reportedly state that military personnel who make contact with WikiLeaks or ”WikiLeaks supporters” are at risk of being charged with ”communicating with the enemy,” and the United States Department of Justicereportedly has considered prosecuting Assange for several offenses. During the trial of Manning prosecutors presented evidence that they claim reveals that Manning and Assange collaborated to steal and publish U.S. military and diplomatic documents. Since December 2010, Assange has been subject to a European Arrest Warrant in response to a Swedish police request for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. In June 2012, following final dismissal by the Supreme Court of the UK of his appeal against enforcement of the European Arrest Warrant, Assange has failed to surrender to his bail, and has been treated by the UK authorities as having absconded. Since 19 June 2012, he has been inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has since been granted diplomatic asylum. The British government intends to extradite Assange to Sweden under that arrest warrant once he leaves the embassy, which Assange says he fears may result in his subsequent extradition to the United States to face charges over the diplomatic cables case.
Assange has announced his intention to launch a political party and run a campaign for a Senate seat representing either New South Wales or Victoria in theAustralian federal election, 2013. Australian commentators have questioned his eligibility.
Computer programming and other employment
In 1993, Assange was involved in starting one of the first public internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network. Starting in 1994, he lived in Melbourne, where he worked on developing free software and programming. In 1995, he wrote Strobe, a freeware port scanner. He contributed several patches to the PostgreSQL project in 1996. He helped to write the bookUnderground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier (1997), which credits him as a researcher and reports his history with International Subversives. Starting around 1997, he co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system, a cryptographic concept made into a software package for the Linux operating system designed to provide plausible deniability against rubber-hose cryptanalysis; he originally intended the system to be used ”as a tool for human rights workers who needed to protect sensitive data in the field.” Other free-software that he has authored or co-authored includes the Usenet caching software NNTPCache and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines. In 1998, ”Assange co-founded his first and only Australian company, Earthmen Technology”. Assange was characterised as a ”cryptographer” in a Suelette Dreyfus article published in The Independent, 15 November 1999 – ”This is just between us (and the spies)”, and was said to have been the moderator of ”the online Australian discussion forum AUCRYPTO”, and during this time Assange claimed to have found a new patent relating to the US National Security Agency’s technology for monitoring calls, ”while investigating NSA capabilities”. Assange said that ”this patent should worry people. Everyone’s overseas phone calls are or may soon be tapped, transcribed and archived in the bowels of an unaccountable foreign spy agency”. In 1999, he registered the domain leaks.org, but he says he ”didn’t do anything with it.”
From 2002 to 2005, Assange attended the University of Melbourne and the University of Canberra as an undergraduate student. He started a ‘Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree, studying physics, pure mathematics and, briefly, philosophy and neuroscience, but he did not graduate. There are four passing grades in the Australian university system — ”pass”, ”credit” or ”merit”, ”distinction” and ”high distinction”; in most of his maths courses, he received ”pass” (50-65%). The fact that his fellow students were doing research for the Pentagon’s DARPA was reportedly a factor in motivating him to drop out and start WikiLeaks.
Career as head of WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks was founded in 2006. That year, Assange wrote two essays setting out the philosophy behind WikiLeaks: ”To radically shift regime behaviour we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not.” In his blog he wrote, ”the more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie…. Since unjust systems, by their nature, induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”
Assange is the most prominent media spokesman on WikiLeaks’ behalf. In June 2010, he was listed alongside several others as a member of the WikiLeaks advisory board. While newspapers have described him as a ”director” or ”founder” of WikiLeaks, Assange has said, ”I don’t call myself a founder”; he does describe himself as the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, and he has stated that he has the final decision in the process of vetting documents submitted to the site. Assange says that WikiLeaks has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined: ”That’s not something I say as a way of saying how successful we are – rather, that shows you the parlous state of the rest of the media. How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It’s disgraceful.” He advocates a ”transparent” and ”scientific” approach to journalism, saying that ”you can’t publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results; that should be the standard in journalism.” In 2006, CounterPunch called him ”Australia’s most infamous former computer hacker.” The Agehas called him ”one of the most intriguing people in the world” and ”internet’s freedom fighter.” Assange has called himself ”extremely cynical”. He has been described as being largely self-taught and widely read on science and mathematics, and as thriving on intellectual battle.
WikiLeaks has been involved in the publication of material documenting extrajudicial killings in Kenya, a report of toxic waste dumping on the coast of Côte d’Ivoire, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay detention camp procedures, the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike video, and material involving large banks such as Kaupthing and Julius Baer among other documents. In 2008, Assange published an article entitled ”The Hidden Curse of Thomas Paine”, in which he wrote ”What does it mean when only those facts about the world with economic powers behind them can be heard, when the truth lays naked before the world and no one will be the first to speak without payment or subsidy?”
Release of US diplomatic cables
On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks began releasing some of the 251,000 American diplomatic cables in their possession, of which over 53 percent are listed asunclassified, 40 percent are ”Confidential” and just over six percent are classified ”Secret”. The following day, the Attorney-General of Australia, Robert McClelland, told the press that Australia would inquire into Assange’s activities and WikiLeaks. He said that ”from Australia’s point of view, we think there are potentially a number of criminal laws that could have been breached by the release of this information. The Australian Federal Police are looking at that”. McClelland would not rule out the possibility that Australian authorities will cancel Assange’s passport, and warned him that he might face charges should he return to Australia. The Federal Police inquiry found that Assange had not committed any crime.
The United States Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation related to the leak. US prosecutors are reportedly considering charges against Assange under several laws, but any prosecution would be difficult. In relation to its ongoing investigations of WikiLeaks, on 14 December 2010, the US Department of Justice issued a subpoena ordering Twitter to release information relating to Assange’s account, amongst others.
The WikiLeaks diplomatic cable revelations have been credited by some commentators with being a factor in sparking the Tunisian Revolution, as such leaked cables revealed the degree of corruption in the then ruling government. Writing for Foreign Policy magazine, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson suggested that ”Tunisians didn’t need any more reasons to protest when they took to the streets these past weeks – food prices were rising, corruption was rampant, and unemployment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia as the first time that WikiLeaks pushed people over the brink…”
On 6 December 2010, the Swiss bank PostFinance announced that it had frozen assets of Assange’s totalling 31,000 euros, because he had ”provided false information regarding his place of residence” when opening the account. MasterCard, Visa Inc., and Bank of America also halted dealings with WikiLeaks. Assange described these actions as ”business McCarthyism”. The English-language Swedish newspaper website The Local quoted Assange on 27 December 2010 as saying that legal costs for the whistleblowing website and his own defence had reached £500,000. Assange said WikiLeaks had been receiving as much as £85,000 a day at its peak, before the financial blockade.
In December 2010, Assange sold the publishing rights to his proposed autobiography for over £1 million. He told The Sunday Times that he was forced to enter the deal for an autobiography because of the financial difficulties he and the site encountered, stating ”I don’t want to write this book, but I have to. I have already spent £200,000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.”
A draft of this work was published, without Assange’s consent, in September 2011. The book was ghostwritten by Andrew O’Hagan and was given the title Julian Assange – The Unauthorised Autobiography(2011). Assange and the publisher, Canongate, gave differing accounts of the circumstances surrounding the publication.
Allegations of possible extradition to the United States
Emails leaked by WikiLeaks from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, have discussions surrounding a secret grand jury with a secret indictment. Later, a media organisation received declassified diplomatic cables that confirm a secret indictment exists. The documents go on to state that Australia has no objection to a potential extradition to the United States. The Australian government confirmed the possibility of extradition but stated that it wasn’t unusual as there was an ongoing investigation about WikiLeaks. They point out that the United States may not be intent on extraditing Assange.
Support and criticism around the world
Comments by the Australian government
The publication of Australian government briefings after a Senate request showed the government had privately discussed charging Assange with treason, which they never mentioned publicly. Julia Gillardclaimed that Assange’s actions were illegal, which was later retracted when an Australian Federal Police commission determined he had not broken any Australian laws. They also found no grounds to withdraw his Australian passport after an investigation by the Australian Federal Police.
Since then, government representatives and the major opposition, including Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Minister for Trade Craig Emerson and former Minister for Communications Helen Coonan have made statements supportive of WikiLeaks and deprecated some threats. Emerson stated on ABC’s ‘Q&A’ program: ”We condemn absolutely the threats that have been made by some people in the United States against Julian Assange and he deserves all of the rights of being an Australian citizen”.
Senator Ludlam’s WikiLeaks support website leads with: ”[We] are demanding the Australian Government take action to ensure WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange’s legal and consular rights are upheld. We are concerned that our government has done nothing to investigate the secret US Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks, which could lead to Assange’s extradition to the US.”
These supportive statements by the Australian government have complicated Assange’s attempts to seek political asylum. Under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, refugees must have a ”well-founded fear of being persecuted” in their home country.
On 18 August, a Freedom of Information request made by the Sydney Morning Herald showed that the Australian government had been told repeatedly by the US that Washington was undertaking ”unprecedented” efforts to get Assange, but that Canberra had not once objected.
Support from Australians
The Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, has come under widespread condemnation and a backlash within her own party for failing to support Assange after calling the leaks ”an illegal act” and suggesting that his Australian passport should be cancelled. Hundreds of lawyers, academics and journalists came forward in his support, with the then Attorney-General, Robert McClelland unable to explain how Assange had broken Australian law. Opposition Legal Affairs spokesman, Senator George Brandis, a Queen’s Counsel, accused Gillard of being ”clumsy” with her language, stating, ”As far as I can see, he (Assange) hasn’t broken any Australian law, nor does it appear he has broken any American laws.” The former Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, said that ”decisions concerning the withdrawal or otherwise of passports rests exclusively with himself as foreign minister based on the advice of the relevant agencies”, and that Mrs Gillard’s comments about illegality referred to the US, on whom he placed blame for the affair.
Queen’s Counsel Peter Faris, who acted for Assange in a hacking case in the late 1990s, said that the motives of Swedish authorities in seeking Assange’s extradition for alleged sex offences were suspect: ”You have to say: why are they (Sweden) pursuing it? It’s pretty obvious that if it was Bill Bloggs, they wouldn’t be going to the trouble.” Following the Swedish Embassy issuing a ”prepared and unconvincing reply” in response to letters of protest, Gillard was called on to send a message to Sweden ”querying the way charges were laid, investigated and dropped, only to be picked up again by a different prosecutor.”
On 10 December 2010, over 500 people rallied outside Sydney Town Hall and about 350 people gathered in Brisbane, Queensland where Assange’s lawyer, Rob Stary, criticised Julia Gillard’s position, telling the rally that the Australian government was a ”sycophant” of the United States.
Australian jouranalist and GetUp member Mary Kostakidis published an online petition calling on Bob Carr and the Australian Government to stand up for the rights of all Australian citizens, to prevent Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States. Circulated by GetUp!, which has placed full page ads in support of Assange in The New York Times and The Washington Times, it has received more than 50,000 signatures.
On 23 July 2012, ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ investigative journalism series ran a popular 45 minute feature Sex, Lies and Julian Assange by Andrew Fowler and Wayne Harley. The programme examined evidence to-date on the timeline of the sexual assault allegations and claims of interference from the United States, and included interviews and quotes from individuals linked with the case.
United States response to Afghan war logs
Despite withholding some 15,000 incident reports for ”safety reasons,” thousands of documents in the Wikileaks Afghan war log do identify Afghans by name, family, location, and ideology. The Taliban issued a warning to Afghans, alleged in the log to have worked as informers for the NATO-led coalition, that ”US spies” will be hunted down and punished, indicating they will investigate the named individuals before deciding on their fate.
Asked what he thought of the dangers to those families created by the release of their personal information, Assange claimed that many informers in Afghanistan were ”acting in a criminal way” by sharing false information with NATO authorities. He insisted that any risk to informants’ lives was outweighed by the overall importance of publishing the information.
Current and former US government officials have accused Assange of terrorism. When asked if he saw Assange more as a high-tech terrorist or as a whistleblower, like those who released the Pentagon papersin the 1970s, US Vice President Joe Biden said: ”I would argue it is closer to being a high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon papers.” In May 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had used the phrase, calling Assange ”a high-tech terrorist”, and saying ”he has done enormous damage to our country. I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”. Also in May 2010, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said: ”Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism. He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”
In July 2010, after WikiLeaks released classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, said at a Pentagon news conference, ”Disagree with the war all you want, take issue with the policy, challenge me or our ground commanders on the decisions we make to accomplish the mission we’ve been given, but don’t put those who willingly go into harm’s way even further in harm’s way just to satisfy your need to make a point. Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is, they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” Assange responded later in an interview by saying, ”There is, as far as we can tell, no incident of that. So it is a speculative charge. Of course, we are treating any possible revelation of the names of innocents seriously. That is why we held back 15,000 of these documents, to review that”. Assange also claimed it was ‘ironic’ of US officials and military leaders to accuse him of having blood on his hands.
On 30 November 2010, former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin called for Assange to be pursued ”with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders”.
Calls for Assange’s assassination
On 30 November 2010, Tom Flanagan, a former aide to the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, called for Assange’s assassination. Flanagan later retracted his comments, after a Vancouver lawyer filed a complaint with the Calgary Police against Harper, and Canadian nationals filed complaint with the ombudsman of CBC News.
On 1 December 2010, Republican Mike Huckabee called for those behind the leak of the cables to be executed, a view partly supported by Kathleen McFarland, former Pentagon advisor under Nixon, Ford and Reagan, and current Fox News national security expert.
On 6 December 2010, during a segment of the Fox Business show Follow The Money, Fox News political commentator and analyst Bob Beckel stated: ”A dead man can’t leak stuff. This guy’s a traitor, he’s treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States…And I’m not for the death penalty, so…there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.” Other guests on the programme agreed.
Assange responded on the Guardian newspaper website to a reader’s question about Flanagan’s remarks, by contending that ”Mr. Flanagan and the others seriously making these statements should be charged with incitement to commit murder.”
Members of US Congress call for Espionage Act prosecution
On 29 November 2010, Rep. Peter T. King, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) wrote to the Attorney General, Eric Holder, asking that Assange should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, and that he should be declared a terrorist. The same day, King also wrote to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, requesting that she designate Wikileaks as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
- ”I am calling on the attorney general and supporting his efforts to fully prosecute Wikileaks and its founder for violating the Espionage Act. And I’m also calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare Wikileaks a foreign terrorist organization”, King said on WNIS radio on Sunday evening.
- ”I am calling on the attorney general and supporting his efforts to fully prosecute Wikileaks and its founder for violating the Espionage Act. And I’m also calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare Wikileaks a foreign terrorist organization”, King said on WNIS radio on Sunday evening.
- ”By doing that, we will be able to seize their funds and go after anyone who provides them help or contributions or assistance whatsoever,” he said. “To me, they are a clear and present danger to America.”
On 30 November 2010, on Fox News, Rep. King repeated his assertions that Wikileaks was a terrorist organisation; he continued to repeat these assertions on other news media channels for the following week.
On 2 December 2010, Senator Feinstein and Senator Kit Bond, respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), sent a joint-letter to Attorney GeneralHolder, asking him to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act [18 U.S.C. 793(e)], offering to ”close those gaps in the law” if the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) found it difficult to apply the law to Assange’s case. In televised interviews Senators Bond and Feinstein stated that:
On 7 December 2010, Senator Feinstein published an editorial commentary on Assange entitled ”Prosecute Assange Under the Espionage Act”. Punishments under the Espionage Act can include the death penalty, although in practice the US has not executed anyone for a crime other than murder since 1964 when James Coburn was executed in Alabama for robbery.
Support in the United States
Daniel Ellsberg, who was working in the US Department of Defense when he leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, was a signatory to a statement by an international group of former intelligence officers and ex-government officials in support of Assange’s work, which was released in late December 2010. Other signatories included David MacMichael, Ray McGovern, and five recipients of annual Sam Adams Award:Frank Grevil, Katharine Gun, Craig Murray, Coleen Rowley and Larry Wilkerson. Ellsberg has said, ”If I released the Pentagon Papers today, the same rhetoric and the same calls would be made about me … I would be called not only a traitor – which I was [called] then, which was false and slanderous – but I would be called a terrorist … Assange and Bradley Manning are no more terrorists than I am.”
Some other US prominent public figures that have repeatedly voiced independent support for Assange (in the context of his fight against extradition and possible US prosecution) include: feminist author Naomi Wolf, filmmaker Oliver Stone, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, journalist Glenn Greenwald, EFF founder John Perry Barlow.
Support from other countries
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, then president of Brazil, expressed his ”solidarity” with Assange following his 2010 arrest in the United Kingdom. He further criticised the arrest of Assange as ”an attack onfreedom of expression”.
Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister of Russia, condemned Assange’s detention as ”undemocratic”. A source within the office of the Russian President suggested that Assange be nominated for a Nobel Prize and said that ”Public and non-governmental organisations should think of how to help him.”
In December 2010, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank LaRue, said that Assange or other WikiLeaks staff should not face criminal charges for any information they disseminated, noting that ”if there is a responsibility by leaking information it is of, exclusively of the person that made the leak and not of the media that publish it. And this is the way that transparency works and that corruption has been confronted in many cases.”
Prominent public figures from outside the US and Australia that have repeatedly voiced independent support for Assange (in the context of his fight against extradition and possible US prosecution) include: President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, filmmaker Ken Loach, investigative journalist John Pilger, Frontline Club founder Vaughan Smith, writer & activist Tariq Ali, fundraiser Jemima Khan, human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger, Swedish Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge.
Assange received the 2009 Amnesty International UK Media Award (New Media), for exposing extrajudicial assassinations in Kenya by distributing and publicizing the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)’s investigation Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances. Accepting the award, Assange said, ”It is a reflection of the courage and strength of Kenyan civil society that this injustice was documented.”
In 2010, Assange was awarded the Sam Adams Award, Readers’ Choice in TIME magazine’s Person of the Year poll, and runner-up for Person of the Year. In April 2011 he was listed on theTime 100 list of most influential people. An informal poll of editors at Postmedia Network named him the top newsmaker for the year after six out of 10 felt Assange had ”affected profoundly how information is seen and delivered”.
Le Monde, one of the five publications to cooperate with WikiLeaks’ publication of the recent document leaks, named him person of the year with fifty six percent of the votes in their online poll.
In February 2011, it was announced that Assange had been awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation gold medal by the Sydney Peace Foundation of the University of Sydney for his ”exceptional courage and initiative in pursuit of human rights.” There have been four recipients of the award in the foundation’s 14-year history: Nelson Mandela; the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso; Daisaku Ikeda; and Assange.
In June 2011, Assange was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. The prize is awarded on an annual basis to journalists ”whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth that exposes establishment propaganda, or ‘official drivel'”. The judges said, ”WikiLeaks has been portrayed as a phenomenon of the hi-tech age, which it is. But it’s much more. Its goal of justice through transparency is in the oldest and finest tradition of journalism.”
In November 2011, he was awarded the 2011 Walkley Award in the category Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism. The annual Walkley Awards honour excellence in journalism, and the Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, awarded since 1994, recognises commitment and achievement in the Australian media.
On 17 September 2012, the Indigenous Social Justice Association awarded Assange an Australian Aboriginal passport in a ceremony in Sydney. The legality of the passport has been questioned as it is intended for internal Australian use between Aboriginal lands.
Assange has been a member of the Australian journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, for several years, and in 2011 was made an honorary member. Alex Massie wrote an article in The Spectator called ”Yes, Julian Assange is a journalist”, but acknowledged that ”newsman” might be a better description. Alan Dershowitz said ”Without a doubt. He is a journalist, a new kind of journalist”. Assange has said that he has been publishing factual material since age 25, and that it is not necessary to debate whether or not he is a journalist. He has stated that his role is ”primarily that of a publisher and editor-in-chief who organises and directs other journalists”. He has been described as a journalist by the Centre for Investigative Journalism.
Allegations of sexual assault and political refugee
On 20 August 2010, Swedish police began an investigation into allegations concerning Assange’s behaviour in separate sexual encounters involving two women. Assange has described all the sexual encounters as consensual, and statements by the plaintiffs confirm that the encounters at least started as such. The arrest warrant was canceled on 21 August 2010 by one of Stockholm’s Chief Prosecutors, Eva Finne, and the investigation was downgraded to only cover one of the lesser allegations. Finne said in a statement to the press: ”I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” The warrant was subsequently re-issued on 1 September 2010 by another Swedish Chief Prosecutor, Marianne Ny, who considered that the allegations could be classed as rape after all.
In December 2010, Assange, then in Britain, learned that the Swedish authorities had issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) to extradite him to Sweden for questioning. Assange voluntarily attended a police station in England on 7 December 2010, and was arrested and taken into custody. After ten days inWandsworth prison, Assange was freed on bail with a residence requirement at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, England, fitted with an electronic tag and ordered to report to police daily.
The EAW contained four complaints from two different women: that on 14 August 2010 he committed ”unlawful coercion” when he held plaintiff 1 down with his body weight in a sexual manner; that he ”sexually molested” plaintiff 1 when he had condom-less sex with her after she insisted that he use one; that he had condom-less sex with plaintiff 2 on the morning of 17 August while she was asleep; and that he ”deliberately molested” plaintiff 1 on 18 August 2010 by pressing his erect penis against her body.
An extradition hearing took place on 7–8 and 11 February 2011 before the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court. At the hearing, Assange’s defence raised a variety of objections, including mismatches between the EAW and the original accuser statements to the Swedish police that exaggerated the nature of the complaints. In particular they argued the original police reports showed – contrary to the EAW – absence of alleged rape; absence of alleged force or injury; admission in both cases of consensual sex on the same occasions as the allegations; and splitting of a condom used with plaintiff 1 rather than failure to use one.
The defence also highlighted evidence that: plaintiff 2 had later admitted to being ”half asleep” after consensual sex, rather than ”asleep”; that the plaintiffs had originally been seeking to compel Assange to take an STD test rather than prosecution; and that plaintiff 1 had thrown a Crayfish party for Assange at her home the evening after the alleged incidents, from which she tweeted: ”Sitting outdoors at 02:00 and hardly freezing with the world’s coolest, smartest people! It’s amazing!” and invited Assange to stay in her room afterwards.
On 24 February 2011, the court upheld the extradition warrant. On 2 March 2011, Assange’s lawyers lodged papers at the High Court challenging the ruling to extradite Assange to Sweden, saying the allegations were ”without basis”. After a hearing on 12 and 13 July 2011, the High Court reserved its judgement. On 2 November 2011 the High Court upheld the extradition decision and rejected all four grounds of appeal presented by Assange’s legal representatives. Costs of £19,000 were also awarded against Assange. He was freed on bail of £200,000 which was posted by a group of friends and supporters, including the socialite Jemima Khan, journalist John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and publisher Felix Dennis. Amongst those offering £20,000 sureties each were retired Professor Tricia David, Nobel prize-winning biologist Sir John Sulston (who helped unravel the human genome), former Sunday Times journalist Phillip Knightley, Lady Caroline Evans (wife of former Labour minister Lord Evans), his personal friend, catering manager Sarah Saunders and Frontline Club founder Captain Vaughan Smith, who provided his Norfolk Country mansion as a bail address. Marchioness Tracy Worcester, the model and actress turned environmental campaigner, offered £10,000 while his Wikileaks assistants Joseph Farrell and Sarah Harrison, both agreed to £5,000 each. On 5 September 2012, Westminster Magistrates Court ruled that due to Assange not surrendering himself to the police by the due date (11.30am 29 June 2012) their bond was now forfeit and that they had a further three weeks to show cause as to why they should not pay the money.
On 5 December 2011, Assange’s lawyers were granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, after the High Court certified that a point of law of general public importance, that ought to be considered by the Supreme Court, was involved in its decision. The certified question was whether a prosecutor can be a judicial authority. The Supreme Court heard argument in the appeal on 1 and 2 February 2012. And reserved its judgment, while Assange remained on conditional bail. On 30 May 2012 the court dismissed the appeal by a majority of 5–2. The court granted Assange two weeks to make an application to reopen the appeal after his counsel argued the judgments of the majority relied on an interpretation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which was not argued during the hearing.
Request for political asylum in Ecuador
In December 2011, Assange’s lawyer in Britain, Mark Stephens, repeated Assange’s earlier claims that the allegations in Sweden were a ”holding case” whilst the United States prepared its prosecution over Wikileaks’s activities. He said Assange could face extradition or illegal rendition from Sweden to the US, where he could be detained in a high-security prison and face the death penalty under the Espionage Act of 1917. Stephens also stated his belief that Swedish officials were co-operating with US authorities.
On 19 June 2012, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that Assange had applied for political asylum and that the government was analysing his request, and that Assange was in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The Metropolitan Police Service stated that he was in breach of one of the conditions of his bail and could therefore be lawfully arrested. Ecuador was required by international law to consider his application, but some extradition experts contended that he might have to show that he was being persecuted in his home country, Australia. On 23 June, Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, recalled his Ambassador to the UK back to Quito, to discuss the situation. On 24 June, Assange said he would go to Sweden if provided with a diplomatic guarantee that he would not be turned over to the US. Ecuadorian officials at the London embassy offered to allow Swedish prosecutors to question Assange there. This was, however, spurned by the Swedish.
In July 2012, Assange and human rights jurist Baltasar Garzón jointly announced that Garzón would lead his legal team.
Claes Borgström, the lawyer of the two Swedish women who made allegations of sexual assault against Assange, denounced Ecuador’s move as ”absurd”. Borgström told reporters that the move was an abuse of the asylum instrument, the purpose of which is to protect people from persecution and torture if sent back to their country of origin. ”He doesn’t risk being handed over to the United States for torture or the death penalty. He should be brought to justice in Sweden,” he said. However, Ricardo Patiño, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, claims that Sweden has refused to rule out the extradition of Assange if it were requested by the United States because, as stated by the Swedish foreign ministry, Sweden’s legislation does not allow any judicial decision like extradition to be predetermined.
Grant of asylum
On 16 August, Ricardo Patiño, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, stated in a press conference that the Ecuadorian government was granting Assange political asylum. Patiño cited concerns that Assange might be extradited to the US, which could conceivably lead to his execution or indefinite incarceration. The British Foreign Office stated that it was ”disappointed” at Ecuador’s decision and that it remained under a binding agreement to extradite Assange to Sweden in spite of the decision taken by Ecuador. On 16 August, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said that the UK would not allow Assange safe passage out of the country. Rafael Correa said on 18 August that Assange could stay at the embassy indefinitely. Later, Patiño announced the decision to grant Assange asylum to the media:
A lot of people think it’s strange that a government could act on principles. But we act on principles…. when we were deciding on the asylum… What has happened here is that Ecuador has recovered its dignity at an international level…previous governments in Ecuador did what the US or Europe told them to do. Even worse,… based on what they imagined the US or Europe wanted …. What happened since 2007, since Rafael Correa has been president… is that we have started thinking with our own head and we walk on our own feet. We have dignity and sovereignty.”
In a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy on 19 August, Assange urged the United States to ”end its witch hunt” against WikiLeaks and said: ”Bradley Manning must be released” on several occasions. He also said, ”The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.” He also referred to the imprisonment of Bahraini human rights activists Nabeel Rajab and three of the members of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot in saying: ”There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response.”
Washington has denied there is any ”witchhunt” and stated that Assange was making ”wild” claims to deflect attention from his alleged sexual misconduct in Sweden. There were also protests outside the British embassy in Ecuador, as well as support for Correa’s approval of the asylum request.
In a poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion in August 2012, 41% of Britons said they would agree with the UK government ordering a raid of the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange, but a similar proportion (38%) said they would disagree with this course of action. Seumas Milne of The Guardianhas pointed out the unlikelihood of Britain threatening to forcibly enter a foreign embassy in order to apprehend a common sexual assault suspect.
Earlier, on 15 August, the Ecuadorian foreign minister stated that Britain had threatened to storm his country’s embassy in London to arrest Assange. At a press conference Patiño said, ”Such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the rules of international law over the past four centuries. It would set a dangerous precedent, of allowing the violation of embassies as recognised sovereign spaces.” The UK’s position was that it was merely informing Ecuador of the legal position under UK’s own Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which allows the host government to determine what land is considered to be diplomatic or consular premises. Meanwhile, the 12-nation bloc of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the ‘Alianza Bolivariana’ (ALBA), comprising some of these nations besides others from Central America and the 34-nation Organization of American States (OAS), have rallied behind Ecuador, condemning such a possibility and reiterating the inviolability of its diplomatic premises. Correa then announced that they had received ”a communication from the British Foreign Office which said that there was no threat to enter the embassy.” Adding, ”We consider this unfortunate incident over, after a grave diplomatic error by the British in which they said they would enter our embassy.”
Forfeiture of sureties
On 8 October 2012 at Westminster Magistrates Court, nine individuals who had each stood surety for bail for Assange were ordered by the Chief Magistrate, Howard Riddle, to forfeit sums totalling three-quarters of the total amount pledged. He accepted that the individuals had acted in good faith and that the case was unusual. However, he considered that there was no difference in principle between Assange seeking diplomatic asylum in the Ecuador embassy and absconding to that country. He ruled that he would not forfeit ”more than is necessary” to protect the integrity of the system of surety for bail. He ordered the nine individuals to pay a total of £93,500 between them. The Chief Magistrate pointed out that the sureties had been given previous opportunities ”to make representations to show cause why their recognizance should not be estreated”.
The Chief Magistrate ruled under § 120(3) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 that each of the nine must pay the money demanded in full by 6 November 2012 or appear in front of him to show cause why they should ”not be committed to custody for non-payment”. He ruled that Professor Tricia David must pay £10,000; Lady Caroline Evans £15,000; Joseph Farrell and Sarah Harrison (WikiLeaks aides) £3,500 each; Phillip Knightley (a journalist) £15,000; Sarah Saunders £12,000; Vaughan Smith £12,000; Sir John Sulston £15,000 and Tracy, Marchioness of Worcester £7,500.
The World Tomorrow interview programme
In January 2012, WikiLeaks announced that Assange would launch ”a series of in-depth conversations with key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world”, titled The World Tomorrow. The first of twelve completed interview programmes was broadcast by RT on 17 April, with other networks expected to follow. The series is broadcast on a weekly basis and the 26-minute episodes are being made available online. Guests included Hassan Nasrallah, Slavoj Žižek, David Horowitz, Moncef Marzouki, Nabeel Rajab, Rafael Correa, David Graeber, Jacob Appelbaum, Imran Khan,Noam Chomsky and Anwar Ibrahim.
Assange has announced his intention to launch a political party and run a campaign for a Senate seat representing either New South Wales or Victoria in the Australian federal election, 2013. Australian commentators have questioned his eligibility.
Political and economic views
According to Assange, ”It’s not correct to put me in any one philosophical or economic camp, because I’ve learned from many. But one is American libertarianism, market libertarianism. So as far as markets are concerned I’m a libertarian, but I have enough expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free.”
- Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet. (2012)
- Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier. (1997) (Assange is credited as ”researcher” for the credited principal author, Suelette Dreyfus.)
- ”State and Terrorist Conspiracies” (2006) / ”Conspiracy as Governance” (2006)
- ”The Hidden Curse of Thomas Paine” (2008)