A UK court on Thursday found Julian Assange guilty on the charge of breaching his bail conditions after the WikiLeaks co-founder was arrested by Scotland Yard officers from his Ecuador Embassy hideout in London as the South American country withdrew the asylum granted to him. Assange, who has also been arrested on a provisional US extradition warrant, was produced before Westminster Magistrates Court in London where he pleaded not guilty to the charge of failing to surrender.
Describing his behaviour as that of a "narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest", District Judge Michael Snow ruled Assange was guilty for breaching bail and ordered him to appear via videolink on May 2 for an extradition hearing.
The court heard that during his arrest at the embassy after nearly seven years in hiding, the 47-year-old had to be restrained as he shouted: "This is unlawful, I am not leaving."
Scotland Yard said after his initial arrest on breach of bail conditions in the UK, Assange was further arrested on behalf of the US authorities after his arrival at a central London police station on an extradition warrant.
British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed the arrest in Parliament, describing it as a "legal matter" as Assange now faces extradition proceedings to the US on "charges relating to computer offences".
"He has also been arrested in relation to an extradition request from the United States authorities," May told the Commons in a statement. "This goes to show that in the United Kingdom, no one is above the law," she said.
Assange, who was seen in public after many years as he was dragged out of the Ecuador Embassy, appeared visibly aged and sporting a long white beard. He waved a thumbs-up sign at the public gallery in court as he was produced in court. He now faces a 12-month sentence in the UK on the charge of failure to surrender and will remain in judicial custody until he is sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London next month. According to details that emerged in court, his extradition to the US is sought on alleged conspiracy charges related to one of the largest leaks of government secrets.
Earlier on Thursday, the Metropolitan Police said its officers had executed a warrant against Assange dating back to June 29, 2012 for ‘failing to surrender’ before a UK.
The Australian-born campaigner has been holed up in a back room of the Ecuador embassy in central London for nearly seven years since his arrest on sexual assault charges in Sweden.
He had claimed asylum on the grounds that he feared ultimate extradition to the US, where he claims to face a possible death sentence or torture for Wikileaks' alleged leak of American secrets.
Assange sought refuge at the Ecuador Embassy in Knightsbridge in June 2012, having lost an appeal against extradition to Sweden for questioning on allegations of rape and sexual assault that went up to the UK Supreme Court.
While the Swedish case has since been dropped, Assange was wanted by Scotland Yard for breach of bail and faced arrest the moment he stepped out of the diplomatically immune territory. But once that immunity was lifted, he was taken into custody.
The UK government welcomed the arrest, which it said was the result of ‘extensive dialogue’ between the UK and Ecuador. A Downing Street spokesperson stressed that the UK did not lobby for his arrest in any way and the ‘decision to revoke asylum’ was entirely made by Ecuador.
“Ecuador's actions recognise that the UK's justice system is one in which rights are protected and in which, contrary to what Mr Assange and his supporters may claim, he and his legitimate interests will be protected,” UK home secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement to Parliament.
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, stressed in his statement that Assange was no ‘hero’ as he had hidden from the truth for years. Ecuador's President, Lenin Moreno, said the country had withdrawn Assange's asylum after he repeatedly violated the conditions of his asylum.
WikiLeaks tweeted that Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Assange's political asylum "in violation of international law".
The relationship between Assange and his host country had soured considerably in recent months, resulting in the WkiLeaks co-founder taking legal action against Ecuador last October for allegedly violating his ‘fundamental rights and freedoms’. He was placed under a new set of house rules and allowed only limited internet access.
The US authorities have never officially confirmed that they have charged Assange but the criminal charges related to the publication of classified documents were accidentally made public last year.
In December, 2017, Ecuador gave Assange citizenship, and was reportedly preparing to appoint him to a diplomatic post in Russia, but the British government made clear that if he left the embassy, he would be arrested.
Assange set up WikiLeaks in 2006 with the stated aim of obtaining and publishing confidential documents and images. The organisation hit the headlines four years later when it released footage of US soldiers killing civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.
The US Department of Justice said in a statement that the extradition request was in connection with federal charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, relating to the Chelsea Manning revelations. They carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.