WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ‘could spend decades behind bars in US’
Julian Assange could face decades behind bars or even the death penalty if he is extradited to the United States, his WikiLeaks colleagues fear.
The 47-year-old was spending his first night in custody after being convicted of breaching bail following a dramatic arrest at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had been holed up for seven years.
He is facing extradition to the US on charges of conspiring to break into a classified government computer which, on conviction, could attract a maximum jail sentence of five years, according to the US Department of Justice.
But WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson expressed concern there could be more serious charges awaiting Assange.
He told the Press Association: “We believe this indictment presented in the extradition request is only a part of the story – that there will be more later, that will be added on, more charges.
“It probably adds to the likelihood that he will be extradited from the UK if it’s on relatively smaller charges.”
He said the Grand Jury investigation included charges which could lead to decades in prison or even the death penalty under the Espionage Act 1917.
Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said the UK Government had given him a written assurance that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.
While Theresa May and a number of ministers welcomed the arrest, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on the Government to oppose extradition.
He tweeted: “The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government.”
He was retweeted by Pamela Anderson, one of Assange’s most famous supporters, who has previously described Mr Corbyn as “clearly a decent and fair man”.
The US accuses Assange of assisting Chelsea Manning, a former US intelligence analyst, in breaking a password that helped her infiltrate Pentagon computers.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Assange was in the “cross-hairs of the US administration” over his whistle-blowing activities, and claimed this was the reason he faced being extradited to the US.
A suited Assange, with grey hair tied into a pony tail and sporting a long beard, was described by a judge at a packed Westminster Magistrates’ Court as behaving like a “narcissist”, as he advised him to “get over to the US” and “get on with your life”.
Assange spent almost seven years in the embassy, where he sought political asylum in 2012 when he failed in his legal battle against extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted over two separate allegations, one of rape and one of molestation.
In May 2017, Sweden’s top prosecutor dropped the long-running inquiry into a rape claim against Assange, which he has always denied.
But his arrest on Monday prompted the lawyer for a Swedish woman who alleged she was raped by Assange during a visit to Stockholm in 2010 to say they wanted the case reopened.
Prosecutors in Sweden have since confirmed that while the investigation has not been resumed, they are looking into the case.
The Ecuadorian government had historically been sympathetic to Assange’s cause but a regime change two years ago heralded a less supportive approach and, after 2,487 days in the embassy building in the shadow of Harrods, he was finally removed – shouting and gesticulating – on Thursday.
The Ecuadorian ambassador to the UK, Jaime Marchan, said that in the time Assange had remained in the embassy he had been disrespectful, “continually a problem” and interfered in elections, politics and the internal affairs of other countries.
Mr Marchan added: “He has said that we were spying on him, he has said we were lying, we were agents of the United States.”
WikiLeaks said Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law”.
Mr Hrafnsson said Assange had been thrown “overboard” by Ecuador, adding: “I thought it was horrible to treat an individual like that. I thought it was disgraceful the Ecuadorians would go back on their word.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the decision to finally eject Assange reflected improvements in the UK’s relationship with Ecuador under the country’s new leadership.
Australian Assange came to prominence after WikiLeaks began releasing hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables.
Donald Trump, who had declared “I love WikiLeaks” during his 2016 campaign when the website released damaging emails concerning rival candidate Hillary Clinton, said following Assange’s arrest: “I know nothing about WikiLeaks.”
Speaking outside court, Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said her client’s arrest “sets a dangerous precedent for all journalist and media organisations in Europe and around the world”.
Assange faces a jail term of up to 12 months for the bail breach when he is sentenced at a later date at crown court.
He will next appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on May 2 by prison video-link in relation to the extradition.