Caroline Davies, David Grouch, Kate Lyon and Damien Gayle – The Guardian April 11, 2019
Police have forcibly removed the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrested him, after the Ecuadorian government withdrew asylum.
Assange, 47, was taken into police custody for failing to surrender to bail and on a US extradition warrant, after Metropolitan police officers were invited into the Knightsbridge embassy. He had taken refuge there for almost seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation.
He was being held on Thursday on a warrant issued by Westminster magistrates court on 29 June 2012, when he failed to surrender to the court.
Footage showed Assange, heavily bearded, shouting and gesticulating and being carried out in handcuffs by plainclothes officers and put in a police van shortly after 10am.
Assange had refused to leave the embassy, claiming he would be extradited to the US for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks.
Scotland Yard said: “He has been 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.
“The MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] has a duty to execute the warrant, on behalf of Westminster magistrates court, and was invited into the embassy by the ambassador following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.”
Speaking to parliament, Theresa May thanked the Met and the Ecuadorian government and said: “this goes to show that in the United Kingdom no one is above the law”.
The Home Office confirmed the US request for Assange’s extradition was for an alleged “computer-related offence”. A Home Office spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Julian Assange was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States of America. He is accused in the United States of America computer-related offences.”
Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren, said in a statement the arrest was “news to us” and they were following developments. A preliminary investigation can be resumed as long as the suspected crime is not subject to the statute of limitation, she added. In this case, the suspected crime would be subject to statue of limitations in mid-August 2020.
The president of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, said on Twitter: “In a sovereign decision Ecuador withdrew the asylum status to Julian Assange after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols.”
WikiLeaks said the Ecuadorian government had acted illegally in terminating Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law”.
Outside the Ecuadorian embassy a group of reporters were interviewing an Assange supporter wearing a placard reading “free Julian Assange” around his neck.
Kyle Farren, 22, from Knightsbridge, said: “I think I might have arrived just as he was taken. He was taken at around 10.30.
“When I arrived there was three vans all parked out here and there was a semi-circle of police around the entrance, and a policewoman asked me to move on.”
A police van filled with officers that was outside the door of the embassy left soon after the Guardian arrived. Across the road several dozen broadcast news journalists set up their cameras and lights. But only a single Assange supporter, Farren, remained outside, manning a shrine to the publisher and taking interviews with reporters from around the world.
An arrest warrant was issued for Assange in 2010 for two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation – after he visited Sweden for a speaking trip. He launched a legal battle against extradition to Sweden but when that failed entered the embassy in Hans Crescent and requested political asylum.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, a lawyer for one of the two women who accused Assange, welcomed the arrest. “My client and I have just received the news that Assange has been arrested. That what we have been waiting and hoping for for almost seven years has now happened is clearly a shock to my client. We will do everything we can to ensure that the prosectors resume the Swedish preliminary investigation so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape.”
Assange’s arrest comes one day after WikiLeaks accused the Ecuadorian government of an “extensive spying operation” against him, during which they claimed meetings with lawyers and a doctor inside the embassy over the past year were secretly filmed.
The arrest was welcomed by the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who tweeted: “Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years. Thank you Ecuador and President Lenín Moreno for your cooperation with the Foreign Office to ensure Assange faces justice.”