Julian Assange is an Australian journalist who founded WikiLeaks in 2006. Julian was the editor of WikiLeaks until September 2018: six months of his effective incommunicado detention in the Ecuadorian embassy in London then prompted Julian to appoint Kristin Hrafnsson as WikiLeaks editor-in-chief. Julian remains WikiLeaks’ publisher.
Wikileaks’ publications have had enormous impact. They have changed many peoples’ views of governments, enabling them to see their secrets. They have changed journalism as a practice, as debates have raged over the ethics of secrecy, transparency and reporting on stolen documents. WikiLeaks has gained the admiration of people and organisations all over the world, as evidence in the numerous awards it has won.
At the same time, Julian and WikiLeaks have incurred the wrath of several governments exposed in the releases, notably the United States. US public officials have threatened to prosecute Julian and WikiLeaks: these threats are outlined here. Probably no organisation in the world undertaking legitimate activity is the subject of such intense scrutiny, vilification and threats by the US government as Wikileaks.
In the Ecuadorian embassy in London
Julian has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012, after seeking and gaining political asylum by the Ecuadorian government. Julian has sought protection from US political persecution and attempts to imprison him over his work as the publisher of WikiLeaks. He was granted political asylum after the UK and Sweden refused to give an assurance that they would not extradite him to the US over WikiLeaks publications.
The UK government refuses to confirm or deny whether it has received a US extradition warrant. Human Rights Watch has called on the UK to issue an assurance that it will not extradite Julian to the US as a way to resolve the situation.
Julian’s life in embassy is difficult and would probably be unbearable for most people. He is in a small space and has had no access to sunlight for over six years.
- Human Rights Watch’s Legal Counsel has described Julian’s situation as “more and more like solitary confinement”.
- Former President Rafael Correa, who decided to grant Assange asylum in 2012, has described his treatment by the current government as “torture“.
This has had serious effects on his physical and mental health. But Julian has even been prevented by the British authorities from being able to get necessary medical treatment including an MRI for shoulder pain and dental care: those authorities have stated that Julian will be arrested as soon as he leaves the embassy. Medical assessments concerning the deterioration of Julian’s health can be read here and here.
In March 2018, the new government in Ecuador unilaterally imposed new conditions on Julian that prevent him from having visitors and receiving telephone calls and other electronic communications, permitting him only to meet with his lawyers.
But then in October, Ecuador unilaterally imposed further restrictions in a new “Protocol”. This includes explicit threats to revoke Julian’s asylum if he, or any visitors, breach or are perceived to breach, any of the 28 “rules” in the protocol. The “protocol” forbids Julian from undertaking journalism and expressing his opinions, under threat of losing his asylum. The rules also state that the embassy can seize Julian’s property or his visitors’ property and hand these to the UK police, and report visitors to the UK authorities. The protocol also requires visitors to provide the IMEI codes and serial numbers of electronic devices used inside the embassy, and states that this private information may be shared with undisclosed agencies.
The Ecuadorian government has falsely stated that Julian’s protection from political persecution is contingent on his censorship. There is no legal basis for this claim, and in fact, the interference with his basic rights that has been imposed violates both the Ecuadorian Constitution and binding international legal instruments.
There have been reports that the UK and Ecuador are seeking to reach a “high level” agreement to breach Julian’s asylum by handing him over to the UK police to be arrested. The US government is increasing its military cooperation with Ecuador and providing other inducements, apparently to press Ecuador to hand over Julian. Any such action by Ecuador would be in defiance a strong, supportive ruling (see para 178 and following) by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, setting out Ecuador’s obligations in relation to Julian.
Arbitrary Detention: The United Nations ruling
The United Nations considers Julian to be held in a situation of “arbitrary detention”. In December 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), having reviewed Julian’s case, determined that he has been held in a state of arbitrary detention since his voluntary arrest in London in December 2010.
In its statement announcing its decision, the UN group said,
“The Working Group considered that Mr. Assange has been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth prison which was followed by house arrest and his confinement at the Ecuadorian Embassy. Having concluded that there was a continuous deprivation of liberty, the Working Group also found that the detention was arbitrary because he was held in isolation during the first stage of detention and because of the lack of diligence by the Swedish Prosecutor in its investigations, which resulted in the lengthy detention of Mr. Assange.”
The WGAD called for Julian’s immediate release and stated that he was entitled to compensation. In response to the announcement, Julian’s legal team asked Sweden to withdraw its arrest warrant (see below).
However, the UK and Swedish governments rejected the ruling and have refused to acknowledge the WGAD’s requests. Incredibly, the UK government tried to dismiss the WGAD ruling – which is the world’s leading body addressing matters concerning arbitrary detention – as “ridiculous”. The government requested a review but in November 2016, the WGAD rejected this request stating that it “did not meet the threshold of a review.” The UK government reiterated that it “completely rejects” the ruling of the WGAD.
In December 2010, the Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Julian seeking his extradition (see “Swedish allegations” below). Julian then voluntarily visited a police station in London, following which he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison for 10 days. The day after Julian was imprisoned, the media reported that Sweden and the US had entered into talks over extraditing Assange to the United States in connection with the WikiLeaks disclosures.
After 10 days in prison, the UK courts found that Julian Assange could be released on bail. He was moved to house arrest and required to meet the police every day, which he did for 551 days in a row.
In May 2012, Julian lost an appeal at the UK Supreme Court over his extradition to Sweden. Fearing that the Swedish authorities would make good on reports of his being extradited to the US, in the context of the ongoing US investigation into him (see threats to WL), on 19 June 2012, Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in order to seek asylum.
On 19 August 2012, Ecuador granted political asylum to Julian. It cited a “threat to his life, personal safety and freedom” as the basis for granting his request. The Ecuadorian government added:
“There is a certainty of the Ecuadorian authorities that an extradition to a third country outside the European Union is feasible without the proper guarantees for his safety and personal integrity. The judicial evidence shows clearly that, given an extradition to the United States, Mr. Assange would not have a fair trial, he could be judged by a special or military court, and it is not unlikely that he would receive cruel and demeaning treatment and he would be condemned to a life sentence or the death penalty, which would not respect his human rights… If Mr. Assange is reduced to preventive prison in Sweden (as it is usual in that country), it would initiate a chain of events that will prevent the adoption of preventive measures to avoid his extradition to a third country”.
Asylum was granted under the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1954 Caracas Convention owing to Julian’s well-founded fear of political persecution if extradited to the US in circumstances where the UK and Sweden refused to provide (or even seek) diplomatic assurances against his extradition to the US. Ecuador requested this assurance from the UK and Sweden before deciding to grant Julian protection: its protection was granted when the UK government did not do so.
A key myth about why Julian was forced into the Ecuadorian embassy
Despite numerous false media reports, Julian’s concern was never to avoid extradition to Sweden, but to avoid extradition to the United States – where he would be imprisoned, and, as Ecuador noted in granting asylum, could even face the death penalty. Julian would have accepted extradition to Sweden had the UK provided an assurance against onward extradition to the US.
Despite false media reporting, Julian has also always been willing to present himself to the British police over the bail issue from 2012, again provided that the UK authorities give assurances that he would not be extradited to the US.
Neither the UK nor Swedish governments have ever provided such assurances against extradition.
The UK government has not recognised that it has an obligation to recognise that Julian’s refugee status prevents the UK extraditing him to the persecuting state, in this case, the United States.
The case could have been resolved many years ago.
Swedish allegations and closure of the case
The Swedish case is now closed. The Swedish allegations derived from August 2010, when Julian was in Sweden three weeks after the publication of the Afghan Warlogs, following which the US described WikiLeaks as a “very real and potential threat”.
Two women went to the Swedish police after having separate sexual encounters with Julian in order to request he undergo an STD test. The police filed these reports as one case of “rape” and another of “molestation”. However, the Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm, Eva Finné, reviewed and then dropped the preliminary investigation into the “rape” case, stating that “no crime at all” had been committed and that “the evidence did not disclose any evidence of rape”; the Chief Prosecutor then cancelled the arrest warrant for Julian, who remained in Sweden in order to cooperate in the investigation. However, seven days later, another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, reopened the preliminary investigation.
Text messages between the two women, which were later revealed, do not complain of rape. Rather, they show that the women “did not want to put any charges on JA but that the police were keen on getting a grip on him” and that they “only wanted him to take a test”. One wrote that “it was the police who made up the charges” and told a friend that she felt that she had been “railroaded by police and others around her”.
Julian provided several affidavits professing innocence of any allegations and always made himself available for questioning by the Swedish authorities. Despite numerous false media reports asserting that Julian faced charges by the Swedish police, no charges were ever brought.
Emails released under a tribunal challenge following a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the Swedish authorities wanted to drop the arrest warrant for Julian in 2013 – it was the British government that insisted it continue. UK prosecutors admitted to deleting key emails and engaged in elaborate attempts to keep correspondence from the public record.
After initially stating that it was illegal to question him in the UK, the Swedish prosecutor finally took Julian’s statement on 14 November 2016. It began:
“You have subjected me to six years of unlawful, politicized detention without charge in prison, under house arrest and four and a half years at this embassy. You should have asked me this question six years ago. Your actions in refusing to take my statement for the last six years have been found to be unlawful by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and by the Swedish Court of Appeal. You have been found to have subjected me to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. You have denied me effective legal representation in this process. Despite this, I feel compelled to cooperate even though you are not safeguarding my rights.”
Six months later, in May 2017, Swedish prosecutors announced that they were withdrawing their arrest warrant for Julian and the investigation was halted. The London Metropolitan Police released a statement confirming it would arrest Julian if he left the embassy over the bail issue in 2012.
These two essays, “State and Terror Conspiracies” and “Conspiracy as Government” were authored by Julian in 2006, shortly after the founding of WikiLeaks.
Julian contributed research data to Suelette Dreyfus 1997 book “Underground: Tales of hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier”.
Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet
This book is primarily a transcription of a conversation between Julian and cyber activists Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann about the current state of the internet and what can be expected in the future.
When Google Met WikiLeaks
This book is primarily a transcription of a conversation between Julian Assange and then-Google chairman Eric Schmidt about politics, technology, and the intertwining of the two.
The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire
This book is a compendium of essays detailing specific aspects of WikiLeaks’ released of 250,000 US State Department cables, known as “Cablegate.” Introduction by Julian.
Hillary Clinton: The Goldman Sachs Speeches
This book contains transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s speeches given to multinational finance company Goldman Sachs, which were released as part of WikiLeaks DNC Leaks. Introduction by Julian.
In 2012, Julian Assange hosted a political interview show, entitled The World Tomorrow, featuring discussions on transparency, surveillance and world events with a variety of major public figures, activists and academics. Guests included linguist Noam Chomsky, then Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. The show comprised twelve 26-minute episodes and was sold to a number of TV stations around the world.