Julian Assange ArrestedLondon--Protests broke out to "Free Assange" Thursday even as lawmakers in parliament cheered following the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at Ecuador's embassy in London Thursday.

The mixed reaction, evident everywhere in the UK, showed how Mr. Assange, charged with involvement in computer hacking, has won sympathy even as he wore out his welcome at the embassy and also among some Brits.

He was a bad guest, smug and self-important, a no-no in British culture, say observers.

"I think he probably started out with good intentions but has compromised himself through his actions so many times, becoming a villain," said Peter Hills, 29, engineer from Harrow in England.

"It's his general behavior and outbursts and his cozying up to Putin that really turned me off him," he added.

Mr. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuador embassy since 2012 following a request from Sweden for his extradition on rape allegations, a request granted by the British high court.

But over time, he wore out his welcome at the embassy with his incessant demands, meddling in "other country's affairs" and reluctance to clean up after his cat.

On Thursday, Ecuador withdrew his political asylum.

“Today, I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organizations, against Ecuador, and especially, the transgressions of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” said Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno in a recorded statement.

“While Ecuador upheld the generous conditions of his asylum, Mr. Assange legally challenged in three different instances the legality of the protocols.”

Soon after the withdrawal, Wikileaks posted a video of Mr. Assange being dragged out of the embassy holding a copy of Gore Vidal’s book, “History of the National Security State,” a choice much speculated about in the British press. As he resisted arrest, he shouted, "The UK must resist this attempt by the Trump administration."

Taken to a London police station, he later pleaded not guilty to a charge of violating the terms of his bail at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London.

Now, he faces extradition to the US, where US authorities plan to charge him in connection with helping army analyst Chelsea Manning to leak classified information in 2010 – it was one of the biggest leaks of classified material in US history.

A majority of Brits wanted his extradition in 2013, according to a YouGov poll. And while that amount fell to 43 percent this year, only one in nine Brits held a positive opinion of Assange, according to the poll.

That was reflected in Parliament Thursday: British Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers the "welcome" news that the situation around Assange was finally resolved after seven years, news saying that the arrest, "goes to show that, in the United Kingdom, no one is above the law.”

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, said Thursday that Assange is “no hero.”

“He has hidden from the truth for years and years and it is right that his future should be decided in the British judicial system,” Hunt said. “I mean it’s not so much Julian Assange being held hostage in the Ecuadorian Embassy, it’s actually Julian Assange holding the Ecuadorian Embassy hostage in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them.”

Meanwhile, Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, outside of Westminster Magistrates' Court, told reporters that the legal team has seen the arrest warrant issued Thursday and provisional extradition request from the United States. She warned over the implications for journalists.

"This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists in Europe and elsewhere around the world," she said in footage aired by the BBC. "This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States.”

Wikileaks called the withdrawal of asylum "illegally terminated."

Russia, who has long backed Assange, declined to say whether they would offer him asylum. Russian officials did complain over the arrest. "We certainly hope that all of his rights will be respected,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, prosecutors are contemplating reopening the rape investigation against Assange after a plaintiff requested they do so – Sweden dropped the extradition request in 2017.

"We will now examine the matter to determine how we proceed," said Deputy Chief Prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson in a statement. She added that the statute of limitations on the rape charge runs out next year.

Many Brits say that while they want Assange gone, extradition to Sweden is preferable.

"The Swedes don't have the death penalty so that would be fine with me," said Hills.

Photo: Screenshot of Julian Assange (with beard) being escorted by British police. While being taken, he shouted “The UK must resist this attempt by the Trump administration."
Credit: Courtesy of Russia Today's official YouTube channel.

Story/photo publish date: 04/11/2019

A version of this story was published in the Washington Times.
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