Julian Assange

Julian Paul Assange (/əˈsɑːnʒ/;[5] Hawkins; 3 July 1971) is an Australian editor, publisher, and activist who founded WikiLeaks in 2006. WikiLeaks came to international attention in 2010 when it published a series of leaks provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. These leaks included the Collateral Murder video (April 2010),[6][7] the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010), the Iraq war logs (October 2010), and CableGate (November 2010). After the 2010 leaks, the United States government launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks.[8]

Julian Assange
Assange in 2014
Julian Paul Hawkins

(1971-07-03) 3 July 1971
Ecuadorian (2018–2019)[1]
  • Editor
  • Programmer
Years active1987–present
Known forFounding WikiLeaks
TitleDirector and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks (until September 2018); publisher (since September 2018)[2]
Political party
Criminal statusSentenced to good behaviour bond and reparations in 1996 for hacking offences. Sentenced to 50 weeks in prison, on 1 May 2019, for breaching bail.[3]
Teresa Doe
(m. 1989; div. 1999)
Partner(s)Sarah Harrison
AwardsFull list

In November 2010, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for Assange,[9] after questioning him months earlier about allegations of sexual assault.[10][11] Assange denied the allegations, and said they were just a pretext for him to be extradited from Sweden to the United States because of his role in publishing secret American documents.[12][13] Assange surrendered to UK police on 7 December 2010 but was released on bail within ten days. Having been unsuccessful in his challenge to the extradition proceedings, he breached his £340,000 bail[14] in June 2012 to seek asylum from Ecuador.[15] In August 2012, Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador due to fears of political persecution and possible extradition to the United States.[16] In January 2018, he was granted Ecuadorian citizenship; however it was suspended in April 2019.[17] Assange remained in the Embassy of Ecuador in London for almost seven years.[18]

During the 2016 US Democratic Party presidential primaries, WikiLeaks hosted emails sent or received by candidate Hillary Clinton from her private email server when she was Secretary of State.[19] The U.S. Intelligence Community, as well as a Special Counsel investigation, concluded that the Russian government carried out a hacking campaign as part of broader efforts of interference in the 2016 United States elections. In 2018, twelve Russian intelligence officers, mostly affiliated with the GRU, were indicted on criminal charges by Special Counsel Robert Mueller; the indictment charged the Russians with carrying out the computer hacking and working with WikiLeaks and other organisations to spread the stolen documents. Assange consistently denied any connection to or co-operation with Russia in relation to the leaks, and accused the Clinton campaign of stoking "a neo-McCarthy hysteria".[20][21][22]

On 11 April 2019, Assange's asylum was withdrawn following a series of disputes with the Ecuadorian authorities. The police were invited into the embassy, and he was arrested.[23] Later that day he was found guilty of breaching the Bail Act and on 1 May 2019 he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in the United Kingdom.[24] On the same day, the United States government unsealed an indictment against Assange for alleged computer intrusion, related to the leaks provided by Chelsea Manning. On 23 May 2019, the United States government further charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Editors from newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Times criticised the government's decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act.[25][26] As a result of the revocation of his asylum, and at the request of his alleged rape victim's lawyer, Swedish prosecutors reopened their investigation in May 2019.[27] In November 2019, they dropped the investigation, citing weakened evidence due to the time lapse after the alleged offence.[28] Assange is incarcerated in HM Prison Belmarsh, reportedly in ill health.

Early life, family, education

Assange was born Julian Paul Hawkins on 3 July 1971 in Townsville, Queensland,[29][30][31] to Christine Ann Hawkins (b. 1951),[32] a visual artist,[33]:34 and John Shipton, an anti-war activist and builder.[34] The couple separated before their son was born.[34]

When Julian was a year old, his mother married Brett Assange,[35][36][37] an actor with whom she ran a small theatre company and whom Julian regards as his father (choosing Assange as his surname).[38] Christine had a house in Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island, where they lived from time to time until it was destroyed by fire.[30]

Christine and Brett Assange divorced about 1979. Christine then became involved with Leif Meynell, also known as Leif Hamilton, a member of Australian cult The Family, and they had a son before breaking up in 1982.[29][39][33]:37–38 Julian had a nomadic childhood, living in over 30[40][41] Australian towns and cities by the time he reached his mid-teens, when he settled with his mother and half-brother in Melbourne.[35][42]

Assange attended many schools, including Goolmangar Primary School in New South Wales (1979–1983)[38] and Townsville State High School in Queensland[43] as well as being schooled at home.[36] He studied programming, mathematics and physics at Central Queensland University (1994)[44] and the University of Melbourne (2003–2006),[35][45] but did not complete a degree.[46]

While in his teens, Assange married a woman named Teresa. In 1989 they had a son, Daniel, now a software designer.[35][46][47] The couple separated and initially disputed custody of their child.[36] At this time, Julian's brown hair turned white.[29] Julian was Daniel's primary caregiver for much of his childhood.[48] Julian has other children; in an open letter to then-French president François Hollande, he stated that his youngest child lives in France with his mother. He also said his family had faced death threats and harassment because of his work, forcing them to change identities and reduce contact with him.[49]


In 1987, aged 16, Assange began hacking under the name Mendax[36][50] (Latin for "liar"[51]). He and two others—known as "Trax" and "Prime Suspect"—formed a hacking group they called "the International Subversives".[36] He is thought to have been involved in the WANK (Worms Against Nuclear Killers) hack at NASA in 1989, but he does not acknowledge this.[52][33]:42

In September 1991, Assange was discovered hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, a Canadian multinational telecommunications corporation.[36] The Australian Federal Police tapped Assange's phone line (he was using a modem), raided his home at the end of October[53] and eventually charged him in 1994 with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes.[36] In December 1996, he pleaded guilty to 24 charges (the others were dropped) and was ordered to pay reparations of A$2,100 and released on a good behaviour bond.[52][54] The perceived absence of malicious or mercenary intent and his disrupted childhood were cited to justify his lenient penalty.[54][55][56][57]


In 1993, Assange gave technical advice to the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit that assisted in prosecutions.[58] In the same year, he was involved in starting one of the first public Internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network.[35][59] He began programming in 1994, authoring or co-authoring the TCP port scanner Strobe (1995),[60][61] patches to the open-source database PostgreSQL (1996),[62][63] the Usenet caching software NNTPCache (1996),[64] the Rubberhose deniable encryption system (1997)[65][66] (which reflected his growing interest in cryptography),[67] and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines (2000).[68] During this period, he also moderated the AUCRYPTO forum,[67] ran Best of Security, a website "giving advice on computer security" that had 5,000 subscribers in 1996,[33]:45 and contributed research to Suelette Dreyfus's Underground (1997), a book about Australian hackers, including the International Subversives.[50][69] In 1998, he co-founded the company Earthmen Technology.[57]

Assange stated that he registered the domain leaks.org in 1999, but "didn't do anything with it".[57] He did publicise a patent granted to the National Security Agency in August 1999, for voice-data harvesting technology: "This patent should worry people. Everyone's overseas phone calls are or may soon be tapped, transcribed and archived in the bowels of an unaccountable foreign spy agency."[67]


Early publications

After studying at the University of Melbourne, Assange and others established WikiLeaks in 2006. Assange became a member of the organisation's advisory board[70] and described himself as the editor-in-chief.[71] From 2007 to 2010, Assange travelled continuously on WikiLeaks business, visiting Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.[36][41][72][73][74]

WikiLeaks published internet censorship lists, leaks,[75] and classified media from anonymous sources, including revelations about drone strikes in Yemen, corruption across the Arab world,[76] extrajudicial executions by Kenyan police,[77] 2008 Tibetan unrest in China,[78] the "Petrogate" oil scandal in Peru.[79]

WikiLeaks first came to international prominence in 2008,[80] when "most of the US fourth estate" filed an amicus curiae brief—through the organisational efforts of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP)—in order to defend Wikileaks against a DMCA request from the Swiss bank Julius Baer, which had initially been granted.[81]

Later documents included leaked emails from the Turkish government published at the height of Erdoğan's post-coup purges in Turkey in December 2016,[82][83] & the collection of more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, government ministries and companies. Assange said of the Syria Files that "it helps us not merely to criticise one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it."[84]

By 2015, WikiLeaks had published more than ten million documents and associated analyses, and was described by Assange as "a giant library of the world's most persecuted documents."[85]

Iraq and Afghan War logs and US diplomatic cables

The material WikiLeaks published between 2006 and 2009 attracted various degrees of international attention,[86] but after it began publishing documents supplied by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley), WikiLeaks became a household name. The Manning material included the Collateral Murder video (April 2010)[6] which showed United States soldiers fatally shooting 18 people from a helicopter in Iraq, including journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh.[7] This material also included the Afghanistan War logs (July 2010),[87] the Iraq War logs (October 2010),[88] and the Guantánamo files (April 2011).[89]

Controversy surrounding WikiLeaks reached its greatest intensity after Assange published a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables,[90] known as the "Cablegate" files, in November 2010, initially working with established Western media organisations, and later with smaller regional media organisations, while also publishing the cables upon which their reporting was based.[91][92] The files showed United States espionage against United Nations and other world leaders,[93][94][95] revealed tensions between the U.S. and its allies, and exposed corruption in countries throughout the world as documented by U.S. diplomats, helping to spark the Arab Spring.[96][97] The Cablegate and Iraq and Afghan War releases impacted diplomacy and public opinion globally, with responses varying by region.[92]

Opinions of Assange at this time were divided. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard described his activities as "illegal",[98] but the police said he had not broken Australian law.[99] United States Vice-President Joe Biden and others called him a "terrorist".[100][101][102][103][104] Some called for his assassination or execution.[105][106][107][108][109] Support for Assange came from Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva,[110] Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa,[111] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev,[112][113] British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (then a backbench MP),[114] Spanish Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias,[115] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay,[116] and Argentina's ambassador to the UK, Alicia Castro.[117] He also garnered support from many leading activists and celebrities, including Tariq Ali,[118] John Perry Barlow,[119] Daniel Ellsberg,[120][121] Mary Kostakidis,[122] John Pilger,[123][124] Ai Weiwei,[125] Michael Moore,[126] Noam Chomsky,[125] Vaughan Smith,[127][128] and Oliver Stone.[129]

The year 2010 culminated with the Sam Adams Award, which Assange accepted in October,[130] and a string of distinctions in December—the Le Monde readers' choice award for person of the year,[131][132] the Time readers' choice award for person of the year (he was also a runner-up in Time's overall person of the year award),[133][134] a deal for his autobiography worth at least US$1.3 million,[135][136][137] and selection by the Italian edition of Rolling Stone as "rockstar of the year".[138]

In 2011 the Walkley Foundation awarded WikiLeaks the Walkley Award for "Most outstanding contribution to journalism".[139] It commended WikiLeaks and Assange for their "brave, determined and independent stand for freedom of speech and transparency that has empowered people all over the world".

Assange announced that he would run for the Australian Senate in March 2012 under the new WikiLeaks Party,[140][141] and Cypherpunks[142] was published in November. In 2012, Assange hosted a television show on RT, a network funded by the Russian government.[143] In the same year, he analysed the Kissinger cables held at the US National Archives and released them in searchable form.[144] On 15 September 2014, he appeared via remote video link on Kim Dotcom's Moment of Truth town hall meeting held in Auckland.[145]

The following February, he won the Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal for Peace with Justice, previously awarded to only three people—Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Buddhist spiritual leader Daisaku Ikeda.[146] Two weeks later, he filed for the trademark "Julian Assange" in Europe, which was to be used for "Public speaking services; news reporter services; journalism; publication of texts other than publicity texts; education services; entertainment services."[147][148][149] For several years a member of the Australian journalists' union and still an honorary member,[150][151][152] he was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in June,[153][154] having earlier won the Amnesty International UK Media Award (New Media) in 2009.[155]

Yemen War and CIA leaks

On 25 November 2016, WikiLeaks released emails and internal documents that provided details on the US military operations in Yemen from 2009 to March 2015.[156][157] In a statement accompanying release of "Yemen Files", Assange said about the US involvement in the Yemen war: "The war in Yemen has produced 3.15 million internally displaced persons. Although the United States government has provided most of the bombs and is deeply involved in the conduct of the war itself reportage on the war in English is conspicuously rare."[157]

In April 2017, then CIA director Mike Pompeo, in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called WikiLeaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia".[158] Pompeo's accusation followed a series of "damaging leaks" of confidential documents, codenamed Vault 7, that included details on the CIA's hacking capabilities.[159] Assange accused the CIA of trying to "subvert" his First Amendment rights, saying that "History shows the danger of allowing the CIA or any intelligence agency, whose very modus operandi includes misdirection and lying, to be the sole arbiter of what is true or what is prudent. Otherwise, every day might see a repeat of the many foolish CIA actions which have led to death, displacement, dictatorship and terrorism."[160]

In August 2017, in the midst of the Qatar diplomatic crisis, Saudi-owned newspaper Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, said that Assange "has seven cables about Qatar and only five were published" after Qatar negotiated with WikiLeaks. Assange responded that "The Al Arabiya network (HQ in UAE) has been publishing increasingly absurd fabrications as the UAE v Qatar dispute continues."[161]

A 2017 article in Foreign Policy asserted that in mid 2016 WikiLeaks turned down leaks on the Russian government during the US presidential campaign, stating "the leak organization ignored damaging information on the Kremlin to focus on Hillary Clinton and election-related hacks".[162] This was disputed by Wikileaks which said that as far as it could recall the material was "already public".[162] The cache had previously been reported on by the BBC and other news outlets to reveal details about Russian military and intelligence involvement in Ukraine.[162] The Foreign Policy article also argued that Assange's position on Russia had evolved. Assange's relationship with Russia "started as adversarial" as in he had in October 2010 "teased a massive dump of documents that would expose wrongdoing in the Kremlin, teaming up with a Russian news site for the rollout".[162] However, Assange by 2012 "had his own show on the RT network and in 2016 Assange publicly criticised Novaya Gazeta's coverage of the Panama Papers, suggesting that "reporters had "cherry-picked" the documents to publish for optimal 'Putin bashing, North Korea bashing, sanctions bashing, etc.' while giving Western figures a pass."[162] Russian investigative reporter Roman Shleynov said in an interview with the New York Times that it was a surprise for him to hear that "Mr Assange was repeating the same excuse that our officials, even back in Soviet days, used to say — that it's all some conspiracy from abroad."[162]

2016 U.S. presidential election

Criticism of Clinton and Trump

Assange wrote on WikiLeaks in February 2016: "I have had years of experience in dealing with Hillary Clinton and have read thousands of her cables. Hillary lacks judgment and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism. ... she certainly should not become president of the United States."[163] On 25 July, following the Republican National Convention (RNC), during an interview by Amy Goodman, Assange said that choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is like choosing between cholera or gonorrhea. "Personally, I would prefer neither."[164][165][166] WikiLeaks editor, Sarah Harrison, has stated that the site is not choosing which damaging publications to release, rather releasing information that is available to them.[167] In an Election Day statement, Assange criticised both Clinton and Trump, saying that "The Democratic and Republican candidates have both expressed hostility towards whistleblowers."[168]

It was revealed in October 2017 that during the 2016 presidential election, Cambridge Analytica funder and substantial Republican donor Rebekah Mercer had proposed creating a searchable database for Hillary Clinton emails in the public domain and then forwarded this suggestion to several people, including Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, who personally emailed a request to Assange for Clinton's emails.[169][170] Assange responded to the report by saying he denied Nix's request.[171]

Seth Rich conspiracy theory

In a July 2016 interview, Assange implied that Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was murdered by an unknown assailant earlier that year, was the source behind the DNC emails that WikiLeaks published and that Seth Rich was killed for doing so. WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information about Rich's murder. Assange spoke about sources bringing information to WikiLeaks in the context of Seth Rich, and stated that whistle-blowers are at risk. When an interviewer said that Rich died as a result of "just a robbery", Assange said "No. There's no finding."[172][173][174][175] Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report into Russian interference in the 2016 election said that Assange "falsely implied" that Rich was the source in order to obscure that Russia was the actual source.[176][177][178]

Assange's claims were highlighted by Fox News, The Washington Times and conspiracy website InfoWars.[179][180] According to a study by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Assange's claims set off a spike in attention to the Seth Rich murder. According to the scholars, Assange's claims lent credibility and visibility to what had at that point been a conspiracy theory in the fringe parts of the Internet.[181] According to the Associated Press, the July 2018 indictment of 12 Russian officers by Special Counsel Robert Mueller undermined the idea that Seth Rich was the source for the DNC emails.[182] Similarly, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Assange knew Seth Rich could not have been his source for the hacked emails, because he continued corresponding with the Russian hackers after Rich's death.[176]

Democratic National Committee leaks

On 22 July 2016, WikiLeaks released emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) seemingly presenting ways to undercut Bernie Sanders and showing apparent favouritism towards Clinton, leading to the resignation of party chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.[183][184] The New York Times reported that "Assange accused Mrs. Clinton of having been among those pushing to indict him ..." and that he had timed the release to coincide with the 2016 Democratic National Convention.[185] In an interview with Robert Peston of ITV News, Assange suggested that he saw Hillary Clinton as a personal foe.[164][186] On 4 October 2016, in a WikiLeaks anniversary meeting in Berlin with Assange teleconferencing from his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, reporters spoke of a supposed promise to reveal further information against Clinton which would bring her candidacy down, calling this information "The October Surprise".[187] On 7 October, Assange posted a press release on WikiLeaks exposing a second batch of emails with over 2,000 mails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.[188]

Cybersecurity experts and firms attributed the cyberattack to the Russian government.[20] The Central Intelligence Agency together with several other agencies concluded in a leaked secret report, that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the DNC servers, as well as the email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and leaked the stolen information to WikiLeaks in order to bolster Trump's chances of winning the presidency.[189] As result of the Special Counsel investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections 12 Russian military intelligence agents were indicted on 13 July 2018 for being behind the attack on the DNC mail-server. According to the special counsel's findings this group shared these mails using the pseudonym Guccifer 2.0 with other entities including Wikileaks.[190] The investigation also unearthed direct message exchanges between Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks, in which they coordinated the release of the shared material.[191] In interviews, Assange repeatedly denied that the Russian government was the source of the DNC and Podesta emails,[192][193][22] and accused the Clinton campaign of "a kind of neo-McCarthy hysteria."[21] On the eve of the general presidential election, Assange wrote a press release addressing the criticism around publishing Clinton material on WikiLeaks, saying that WikiLeaks publishes "material given to us if it is of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical importance and which has not been published elsewhere," that it had never received any information on Trump, Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson's campaign, and that therefore could not publish what it did not have.[194][195]

According to Harvard political scientist Matthew Baum and College of the Canyons political scientist Phil Gussin, WikiLeaks strategically released emails related to the Clinton campaign whenever Clinton's lead expanded in the polls.[196]

DNC lawsuit

Assange was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee in April 2018. The lawsuit alleged that WikiLeaks and Russian agents together engaged in a "brazen attack on American democracy" about the hacking and publication of its emails in 2016.[197] WikiLeaks sought to dismiss the suit, with its editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson calling the case "a litmus test for press freedoms. The suit claimed that the scandalous emails of powerful political operatives are 'trade secrets' and cannot be published."[198]

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that the lawsuit "raises several important press freedom questions" including the determination of what activities should "implicate a journalist in a source's illegal behaviour."[199] The organisation cited several First Amendment experts who opined that the lawsuit, if successful, might undermine the Supreme Court's precedents that publishers of information "are not responsible for the illegal acts of their sources," such as Bartnicki v. Vopper.[199]

The suit was dismissed with prejudice in July 2019. In his judgement, Judge John Koeltl said that the defendants including Assange and Wikileaks "did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place" and were therefore within the law in publishing the information. He also said that the DNC case was "entirely divorced" from the facts. The suit could not be refiled due to its "substantive legal defect".[200]

Spy Files Russia

In September 2017, Assange released "Spy Files Russia," revealing "how a St. Petersburg-based technology company called Peter-Service helped Russian state entities gather detailed data on Russian cellphone users, part of a national system of online surveillance called System for Operative Investigative Activities (SORM)." According to Moscow based journalist Fred Weir, "experts say it casts a timely spotlight on the vast surveillance operations mounted by Russian security services."[201] The unexpected release of the material during the height of the Special Counsel investigation into the relationship between Wikileaks and Russia has drawn some criticism for not revealing anything groundbreaking and therefore looking more like an "approved release direct from the Russian government" as an attempt to detract from the investigation.[202][203]

United States criminal investigation

After WikiLeaks released the Manning material, United States authorities began investigating WikiLeaks and Assange personally to prosecute them under the Espionage Act of 1917.[204] In November 2010 US Attorney-General Eric Holder said there was "an active, ongoing criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks.[205] It emerged from legal documents leaked over the ensuing months that Assange and others were being investigated by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia.[206]

In December 2011, prosecutors in the Chelsea Manning case revealed the existence of chat logs between Manning and an alleged WikiLeaks interlocutor they claimed to be Assange;[207][208] he denied this,[209][210][211] dismissing the alleged connection as "absolute nonsense".[212] The logs were presented as evidence during Manning's court-martial in June–July 2013.[213] The prosecution argued that they showed WikiLeaks helping Manning reverse-engineer a password, but the evidence that the interlocutor was Assange was circumstantial, and Manning insisted she acted alone.[214]

In 2013 US officials said that it was unlikely that the Justice Department would indict Assange for publishing classified documents because "it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain's Guardian newspaper".[215]

Assange was being examined separately by "several government agencies" in addition to the grand jury, most notably the FBI.[216] Court documents published in May 2014 suggest that Assange was under "active and ongoing" investigation at that time.[217]

Moreover, some Snowden documents published in 2014 show that the United States government put Assange on the "2010 Manhunting Timeline",[218] and in the same period they urged their allies to open criminal investigations into the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks.[219] In the same documents there was a proposal by the National Security Agency (NSA) to designate WikiLeaks as a "malicious foreign actor", thus increasing the surveillance against it.[218]

In January 2015, WikiLeaks issued a statement saying that three members of the organisation had received notice from Google that Google had complied with a federal warrant by a US District Court to turn over their emails and metadata on 5 April 2012.[220] In July 2015 he called himself a "wanted journalist" in Le Monde, in an open letter to the French president.[49] In a December 2015 court submission, the US government confirmed its "sensitive, ongoing law enforcement proceeding into the Wikileaks matter."[221]

Under the Obama Administration the Department of Justice did not indict Assange because it was unable to find any evidence that his actions differed from those of a journalist.[222]

When Mike Pompeo became CIA director, he and Jeff Sessions "unleashed an aggressive campaign against Mr. Assange, reversing an Obama-era view of WikiLeaks as a journalistic entity".[223]

In April 2017, US officials were preparing to file formal charges against Assange.[224] In early 2019, individuals began to come forward with news of being questioned about Assange by prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia. Legal scholar Stephen Vladeck stated that the prosecutors, after refusing to unseal the indictment, accelerated the case in 2019 due to the impending statute of limitations on Assange's largest leaks.[225] Witnesses named in the investigation included Jacob Appelbaum, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, David House, Jason Katz and Chelsea Manning, all of whom condemned it as a form of government over-reach.[226]

Swedish sexual assault allegations

Assange visited Sweden in August 2010. During his visit, he became the subject of sexual assault allegations from two women.[10] He was questioned, the case was initially closed, and he was told he could leave the country. In November 2010, however, the case was reopened by a special prosecutor who said that she wanted to question Assange over two counts of sexual molestation, one count of unlawful coercion and one count of "lesser-degree rape" (Swedish: mindre grov våldtäkt). Assange denied the allegations and said he was happy to face questions in Britain.[11][227]

On 20 November 2010, the Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant via Interpol for Assange. On 8 December 2010 Assange gave himself up to British police and attended his first extradition hearing where he was remanded in custody pending another hearing. On 16 December 2010 at the second hearing, he was granted bail by the High Court and released after his supporters paid £240,000 in cash and sureties. A further hearing on 24 February 2011 ruled that Assange should be extradited to Sweden. This decision was upheld by the High Court on 2 November and by the Supreme Court on 30 May the next year.[228]

After previously stating that she could not question a suspect by video link or in the Swedish embassy, prosecutor Marianne Ny wrote to the English Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 2013. Her letter advised that she intended to lift the detention order and withdraw the European arrest warrant as the actions were not proportionate to the costs and seriousness of the crime. In response the CPS tried to dissuade Ny from doing so.[229]

In March 2015, after public criticism from other Swedish law practitioners, Ny changed her mind about interrogating Assange, who had taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.[230] These interviews, which began on 14 November 2016, involved the police, Swedish prosecutors and Ecuadorian officials, and were eventually published online.[231] By that time, the statute of limitations had expired on all three of the less serious allegations. Since the Swedish prosecutor had not interviewed Assange by 18 August 2015, the questioning pertained only to the open investigation of "lesser degree rape", whose statute of limitations is due to expire in 2020.[232][233][234][235]

On 19 May 2017, the Swedish authorities suspended their investigation against Assange, claiming they could not expect the Ecuadorian Embassy to communicate reliably with Assange with respect to the case. Chief prosecutor Marianne Ny officially revoked his arrest warrant, but said the investigation could still be resumed if Assange visited Sweden before August 2020. "We are not making any pronouncement about guilt", she said.[236][237][238]

Following Assange's arrest on 11 April 2019, the case was reopened under prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson. In September 2019, she revealed that she had interviewed seven witnesses, two of whom had not been previously heard, but had yet to determine how to proceed in the case.[239] On 19 November, she announced that she had discontinued her investigation into Assange, stating that after a comprehensive assessment, "the evidence is not strong enough to form the basis for filing an indictment". She added that although she was confident in the complainant, "the evidence has weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed". Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson welcomed the decision.[240]

Breaching bail and political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy

On 19 June 2012, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that Assange had applied for political asylum, that his government was considering the request, and that Assange was at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.[241][242][243][244]

Assange breached bail conditions by staying in the embassy and faced arrest if he left. Assange's supporters, including journalist Jemima Goldsmith, journalist John Pilger, and film-maker Ken Loach, forfeited £293,500 in bail and sureties.[245][246] Goldsmith said she was surprised at his asylum bid and expected him to face the Swedish allegations.[247]

Just before Assange was granted asylum, the UK government wrote to Patiño stating that the police were entitled to enter the embassy and arrest Assange under UK law.[248] Patiño criticised what he said was an implied threat, stating that "such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention". Officers of the Metropolitan Police Service were stationed outside the building from June 2012 to October 2015 to arrest Assange for breaching the bail conditions and to compel him to attend court to face the extradition appeal hearing, should he leave the embassy. The police guard was withdrawn on grounds of cost in October 2015, but the police said they would still deploy "several overt and covert tactics to arrest him". The cost of the policing for the period was reported to have been £12.6  million.[249]

Wikileaks insiders stated that Assange decided to seek asylum because he felt abandoned by the Australian government. The Australian attorney-general at the time, Nicola Roxon, had written a letter to Assange's legal representative, Jennifer Robinson, in which she wrote that Australia would not seek to involve itself in any international exchanges about Assange's future. She also wrote that "should Mr Assange be convicted of any offence in the United States and a sentence of imprisonment imposed, he may apply for an international prisoner transfer to Australia". Assange's lawyers described the letter as a "declaration of abandonment".[250]

Assange and his supporters said he was not concerned about any proceedings in Sweden as such, but believed that his deportation to Sweden could lead to politically motivated deportation to the United States, where he could face severe penalties, up to the death sentence, for his activities related to WikiLeaks.[7]

On 16 August 2012, Patiño announced that Ecuador was granting Assange political asylum because of the threat represented by the United States secret investigation against him.[251][252][253][254] In its formal statement, Ecuador reasoned that "as a consequence of Assange's determined defense to freedom of expression and freedom of press… in any given moment, a situation may come where his life, safety or personal integrity will be in danger".[255] Latin American states expressed support for Ecuador.[256][257][258][259] Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa confirmed on 18 August that Assange could stay at the embassy indefinitely,[260][261][262] and the following day Assange gave his first speech from the balcony.[263][264][265][266] An office converted into a studio apartment, equipped with a bed, telephone, sun lamp, computer, shower, treadmill, and kitchenette, became his home from then until 11 April 2019.[267][268][269]

In April 2015, during a video conference to promote the documentary Terminal F about Edward Snowden, Bolivia's ambassador to Russia, María Luisa Ramos Urzagaste, accused Assange of putting the life of Bolivian president Evo Morales at risk by intentionally providing the United States with false rumours that Snowden was on the president's plane when it was forced to land in Vienna in July 2013 after France, Spain and Italy denied access to their airspace. "It is possible that in this wide-ranging game that you began my president did not play a crucial role, but what you did was not important to my president, but it was to me and the citizens of our country. And I have faith that when you planned this game you took into consideration the consequences", the ambassador told Assange. Assange stated that the plan "was not completely honest, but we did consider that the final result would have justified our actions. We weren't expecting this outcome. The result was caused by the United States' intervention. We can only regret what happened."[270]

In an interview the following month with Democracy Now!, Assange explained the story of the grounding of Morales' plane, saying that after the United States cancelled Snowden's passport, WikiLeaks thought about other strategies to take him to Latin America, and they considered private presidential jets of those countries which offered support. The appointed jet was that of Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, but Assange stated that "the code language that we used deliberately swapped the presidential jet that we were considering for the Bolivian jet ... and in some of our communications, we deliberately spoke about that on open lines to lawyers in the United States. And we didn't think much more of it. ... We didn't think this was anything more than just distracting." Eventually, the plan was not pursued and, under Assange's advice, Snowden sought asylum in Russia.[271]

On 3 July 2015, Paris newspaper Le Monde published an open letter from Assange to French President François Hollande in which Assange urged the French government to grant him refugee status.[49] In response to this letter, the French President said: "France cannot act on his request. The situation of Mr Assange does not present an immediate danger."[272] On 4 July 2015, Baltasar Garzón, head of Assange's legal team, said that Assange had sent the open letter to French president François Hollande; but Assange had only expressed his willingness "to be hosted in France if and only if an initiative was taken by the competent authorities".[273]

In September 2016, Assange said he would agree to US prison in exchange for President Obama granting Chelsea Manning clemency.[274][275] Obama commuted Manning's sentence on 17 January 2017.[275] The next day, at his final presidential news conference, Obama stated, "I don't pay a lot of attention to Mr. Assange's tweets, so that wasn't a consideration in this instance."[276] The same day, Assange's US-based attorney Barry Pollack asserted (without saying when or where) that Assange "had called for Chelsea Manning to receive clemency and be released immediately". Accordingly, Pollack maintained, the commutation—which specified Manning would be freed four months thence—did not meet Assange's conditions.[277] On 17 May 2017, Manning was released from prison.[278] Two days later, Assange emerged on the embassy's balcony and told a crowd that, despite no longer facing a Swedish sex investigation, he would remain inside the embassy in order to avoid extradition to the United States.[279]

On 17 October 2016, WikiLeaks announced that a "state party" had severed Assange's Internet connection at the Ecuadorian embassy.[280] The Ecuadorian government stated that it had "temporarily" severed Assange's Internet connection because of WikiLeaks' release of documents "impacting on the US election campaign".[281] In an interview published on 29 December, Assange said, "The Internet has been returned."[282]

On 15 July 2019, CNN obtained documents from an Ecuadorian intelligence official which confirmed that Assange continued to publish Wikileaks material while in the Ecuadorian embassy.[283] The documents also revealed that during the 2016 election in the United States, Assange met with dozens of people within the Ecuadorian embassy. These included employees from RT, for which Assange regularly produced media content, and two German hackers.[283]

Asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy

On 6 June 2017, Assange tweeted his support for NSA leaker Reality Winner,[284] offering a $10,000 reward for information about a reporter for The Intercept who had allegedly helped the US government to identify Winner as the leaker.[285] Assange posted on Twitter: "Reality Leight [sic] Winner is no Clapper or Petraeus with 'elite immunity'. She's a young woman against the wall for talking to the press."[286]

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team had been investigating a meeting between former Donald Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort and President Lenín Moreno in Quito in 2017. Moreno talked with Manafort about removing Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and his extradition to the United States.[287]

On 28 March 2018, Ecuador cut Assange's Internet connection at its London embassy "to prevent any potential harm". Officials said that Assange's recent social media posts denouncing the arrest of a Catalonian separatist leader "put at risk" Ecuador's relations with European nations. Assange then went silent on social media.[288]

In May 2018, a team of Guardian journalists, including Luke Harding, reported that over a five-year span Ecuador had spent at least $5 million (£3.7m) through a secret intelligence budget to protect Assange at its London embassy, "employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police". Visitors included "individuals linked to the Kremlin". Ecuadorian officials had reportedly also devised plans to help Assange escape should British authorities use force to enter the embassy and seize him. The Guardian also reported that documents and "a source who wished to remain anonymous" had indicated that, by 2014, Assange had "compromised" the embassy's communications system and arranged his satellite Internet hookup. "By penetrating the embassy's firewall", Assange was allegedly able to "access and intercept the official and personal communications of staff". According to The Guardian, this claim was denied by WikiLeaks as an "anonymous libel aligned with the current UK–US government onslaught against Mr Assange".[289]

On 21 July 2018, Glenn Greenwald reported that the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry was finalising an agreement to release Assange into the custody of the British government.[290] In a press conference the following week, President Lenín Moreno confirmed that he wanted Assange out of the embassy but also "for his life not to be in danger".[291] This prompted wide speculation that Moreno aimed to strengthen Ecuador's relations with the United States and assist their extradition efforts.[292]

In September 2018, Reuters reported that Ecuador had, in December 2017, granted Assange a "special designation" diplomatic post in Russia – and the cover to leave the embassy and England – but the British Foreign Office did not recognise diplomatic immunity for Assange and the effort was dropped.[293][294]

On 14 October 2018, ITV News reported that Assange's communications had been partially restored following a meeting between two senior UN officials and Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno.[295]

On 16 October 2018, congressmen from the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote an open letter to President Moreno which described Assange as a dangerous criminal and stated that progress between the US and Ecuador in the areas of economic co-operation, counternarcotics assistance and the return of a USAID mission to Ecuador depended on Assange being "handed over to the proper authorities".[296][297]

On 19 October 2018, BBC News reported that Assange was starting legal action against the government of Ecuador, accusing it of violating his "fundamental rights and freedoms".[298] Later that month, an Ecuadorian judge ruled against him, saying that a requirement for Assange to pay for his Internet use and clean up after his cat did not violate his right to asylum.[299]

In November 2018, Pamela Anderson, a close friend and regular visitor of Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy, gave an interview with 60 Minutes in Australia in which she asked the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, to "defend your friend, and get Julian his passport back, and take him back to Australia and be proud of him".[300] Morrison rejected the request but his response was described as "smutty" and "lewd" by Anderson who wrote in an open letter to Morrison that "[y]ou trivialised and laughed about the suffering of an Australian and his family. You followed it with smutty, unnecessary comments about a woman voicing her political opinion." She further advised Morrison that "[r]ather than making lewd suggestions about me, perhaps you should instead think about what you are going to say to millions of Australians when one of their own is marched in an orange jumpsuit to Guantanamo Bay – for publishing the truth. You can prevent this."[301]

In December 2018, President Moreno reached an agreement to have Assange leave the embassy in what he called "near liberty". According to a radio interview by Moreno, British sources told him that Assange would be free to live in the United Kingdom without extradition after serving a prison sentence of at most six months. The formal offer was less explicit, simply stating that he would not be extradited to a country with the death penalty. Assange's lawyers declined, citing a need for further protection.[302]

In February 2019, the parliament of Geneva passed a motion demanding that the Swiss government extend asylum to Assange. The move was proposed by the Swiss People's Party and supported by the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland.[303] In the same month, it was revealed that Assange was issued with a new Australian passport in September 2018. His previous passport had expired several years ago.[304]

In 2015, la Repubblica lodged Freedom of Information requests in Australia, England, the United States and Sweden, seeking information about Assange. It said it was trying to discover whether US authorities told their UK counterparts in 2010 that they intended to extradite Assange and also whether the Swedish investigation was used as a way of trying to extradite him to the US. la Repubblica said that its FOI requests had been hindered and delayed in all jurisdictions. However it said it was able to obtain evidence of the UK's role via the English Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in creating the “legal and diplomatic quagmire” which prevented Assange from leaving the Ecuadorian embassy. la Repubblica sued the CPS in 2017 to obtain further information but its case was rejected with the judge saying "the need for the British authorities to protect the confidentiality of the extradition process outweighs the public interest of the press to know".[305] A further appeal was rejected in September 2019.[305][306]

International courts and the United Nations

The Ecuadorian government of Rafael Correa requested an advisory opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the issue of "the Institution of Asylum and its Recognition as a Human Right in the Inter-American System," and the court issued its advisory opinion in May 2018, upholding the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits signatories of the American Convention on Human Rights from deporting foreign individuals when such a deportation would likely lead to their persecution.[307] According to Doughty Street, the ruling was made shortly after US Vice-President Mike Pence raised the issue of Ecuador's grant of asylum to Assange while on a visit to Ecuador.[308]

On 5 February 2016, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Assange had been subject to arbitrary detention by the UK and Swedish Governments since 7 December 2010, including his time in prison, on conditional bail and in the Ecuadorian embassy. According to the group, Assange should be allowed to walk free and be given compensation.[309][310] The UK and Swedish governments rejected the claim.[311] UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond, said the claim was "ridiculous" and that the group was "made up of lay people", and called Assange a "fugitive from justice" who "can come out any time he chooses".[312] UK and Swedish prosecutors called the group's claims irrelevant.[313][314] The UK said it would arrest Assange should he leave the Ecuadorian embassy.[315] Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, stated that the finding is "not binding on British law".[316] Noah Feldman, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, described the UN Working Group's conclusion as astonishing, summarising the conclusion as "Assange might be charged with a crime in the US. Ecuador thinks charging him with violating national security law would amount to "political persecution" or worse. Therefore Sweden must give up on its claims to try him for rape, and Britain must ignore the Swedes' arrest warrant and let him leave the country."[317]

The Working Group again urged the UK to let Assange leave the Ecuador embassy in London freely. In a statement on 21 December 2018, the organisation asserted that the "Swedish investigations have been closed for over 18 months now, and the only ground remaining for Mr Assange's continued deprivation of liberty is a bail violation in the UK, which is, objectively, a minor offence that cannot post-facto justify the more than six years' confinement that he has been subjected to".[318]

In 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected a complaint submitted by Assange, requesting that the Ecuadorian government "ease the conditions it has imposed on his residence" at the Ecuadorian embassy in London by monitoring him and restricting his visitors, and not allow him to be extradited to the United States.[319]

Withdrawal of asylum and conviction for breaching bail

In April, Ecuador's president Lenin Moreno stated that Assange had violated the terms of his asylum, after photos surfaced on the internet linking Moreno to a corruption scandal.[320][321] WikiLeaks denied that it had acquired any of the published material, and stated that it merely reported on a corruption investigation against Moreno by Ecuador's legislature.[321] WikiLeaks subsequently wrote on Twitter that according to a source within the Ecuadorian government, an agreement had been reached to expel Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy and place him in the custody of UK police.[322][323] The source stated that the expulsion from the embassy would occur in retaliation against WikiLeaks' tweet noting corruption charges against Moreno.[322] Ecuador's Foreign Ministry denied the existence of any planned expulsion.[322][323]

On 11 April 2019, the Metropolitan Police were invited into the Ecuadorian embassy and arrested Assange in connection with his failure to surrender to the court in June 2012 for extradition to Sweden.[324] Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno stated that Ecuador withdrew Assange's asylum after he repeatedly violated international conventions regarding domestic interference.[325][326] Moreno referred to Assange as a "spoiled brat" and "miserable hacker".[327] British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked the Ecuadorean president, Lenin Moreno, for co-operation and the British prime minister, Theresa May, said that "no one is above the law".[328] The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said that Assange is "not going to be given special treatment ... It has got nothing to do with [Australia], it is a matter for the US."[329]

Hours after Assange's arrest, programmer Ola Bini was arrested (but not charged) in Ecuador and interrogated about an alleged plot by unnamed Russian hackers to release compromising information about Moreno in retaliation. Bini had previously met with Assange at the embassy, posted a link to a news article about the plot to Twitter,[330] describing it as a "witch hunt", before leaving on a trip to Japan.[331]

On the afternoon of the day of his arrest Assange was charged with breaching the Bail Act 1976 and was found guilty after a short hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.[332] Judge Michael Snow said Assange was "a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest" and he had "not come close to establishing reasonable excuse".[333] Assange was remanded to HM Prison Belmarsh, and on 1 May 2019 he was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court to 50 weeks imprisonment.[24] The judge said he would be released after serving half his sentence, subject to other proceedings and conditioned upon committing no further offences.[334] The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a statement through the website of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights that the verdict contravened "principles of necessity and proportionality" for what it considered a "minor violation".[335][336] Assange appealed his sentence, but dropped his appeal in July.[337]

Surveillance of Assange in Ecuadorian embassy and the case against David Morales

On 10 April 2019, WikiLeaks said it had uncovered an extensive surveillance operation against Assange from within the Ecuadorian embassy, asserting that videotapes of Assange taken at the embassy constituted an invasion of privacy. WikiLeaks said that "material including video, audio, copies of private legal documents and a medical report" had surfaced in Spain and that unnamed individuals in Madrid had made an extortion attempt.[338][339]

On 26 September 2019 the Spanish newspaper El País reported that the Spanish defence and security company Undercover Global S.L. (UC Global) had spied on Assange for the CIA during his time in the Ecuadorian embassy. UC Global had been contracted to protect the embassy during this time. According to the report UC Global's owner David Morales had provided the CIA with audio and video of meetings Assange held with his lawyers and colleagues. Morales also arranged for the US to have direct access to the stream from video cameras installed in the embassy at the beginning of December 2017. The evidence is part of a secret investigation by Spain's High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, into Morales and his relationship with US intelligence. The investigation was precipitated by a complaint by Assange that accused UC Global of violating his privacy and client-attorney privileges as well as committing misappropriation, bribery and money laundering.[340]

Morales was arrested in September on charges involving violations of privacy and client-attorney privileges, as well as misappropriation, bribery, money laundering and criminal possession of weapons. He was released on bail. On 25 September, Spanish Judge José de la Mata sent British authorities a European Investigation Order (EIO) asking for permission to question Assange by videoconference as a witness in the case against Morales. The United Kingdom Central Authority (UKCA), which is in charge of processing and responding to EIOs in the UK, provisionally denied De la Mata's request to question Assange, raised a number of objections to the request, and asked for more details. De la Mata responded to UKCA's objections on 14 October by stating that Assange was the victim who had filed the complaint and that unlawful disclosure of secrets and bribery are also crimes in the UK. He said that the crimes were partially committed on Spanish territory because the microphones used to spy on Assange were bought in Spain, and the information obtained was sent and uploaded to servers at UC Global S. L.'s headquarters in Spain.[341]

Spanish judicial bodies were upset at having their EIO request denied by UKCA and believed the British justice system is concerned by the effect the Spanish case may have on the process to extradite Assange to the US.[341]

In a November 2019 article Stefania Maurizi said she had access to some of the videos, audios and photos from the embassy showing a medical examination of Assange, a meeting between Ecuadorian ambassador Carlos Abad Ortiz and his staff, a meeting between Assange, Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda and lunch between Assange and British rapper M.I.A. Microphones had been placed in the women's toilets to capture meetings between Assange and his lawyers. Phones belonging to some of the embassy's visitors were compromised. Spanish lawyer Aitor Martinez, who is part of Assange's legal team, said videos were taken of meetings between Assange and his legal defence team. Maurizi concluded that, based on statements from former employees of UC Global, internal UC Global emails and the type of information collected, it was clear that the surveillance was conducted on behalf of the US government and the information gathered would be used by the US to assist in its case for extraditing Assange.[342]

In late November 2019 Britain agreed to allow Judge José de la Mata to interview Assange at Westminster Magistrates Court via video link on 20 December.[343]

Indictment in the United States

Sealed indictment

In 2012 and 2013, US officials indicated that Assange was not named in a sealed indictment.[344][345] On 6 March 2018, a federal grand jury for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a sealed indictment against Assange.[346]

In November 2018, US prosecutors accidentally revealed that Assange had been indicted under seal in US federal court; the revelation came as a result of an error in a different court filing, unrelated to Assange.[347][348][349][350][351]

Charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion

On 11 April 2019, the day of Assange's arrest in London, the indictment against him was unsealed.[352] He was charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion (i.e. hacking into a government computer), a relatively minor crime that carries a maximum 5-year sentence if found guilty.[353][354] The charges stem from the allegation that Assange attempted and failed to crack a password hash so that Chelsea Manning could use a different username to download classified documents and avoid detection.[222] This information had been known since 2011 and was a component of Manning's trial; the indictment did not reveal any new information about Assange.[222][355]

Charges under the Espionage Act

On 23 May, Assange was indicted on 17 new charges relating to the Espionage Act of 1917 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.[356] The Espionage Act charges carry a maximum sentence of 170 years in prison.[357] The Obama administration had debated charging Assange under the Espionage Act but decided against it out of fear that it would have a negative effect on investigative journalism and could be unconstitutional. The new charges relate to obtaining and publishing the secret documents. Most of these charges relate to obtaining the secret documents. The three charges related to publication concern documents which revealed the names of sources in dangerous places putting them "at a grave and imminent risk" of harm or detention. The New York Times commented that it and other news organisations obtained the same documents as WikiLeaks also without government authorisation. It also said it is not clear how WikiLeaks's publications are legally different from other publications of classified information.[358][359]

Most cases brought under the Espionage Act have been against government employees who accessed sensitive information and leaked it to journalists and others.[360] Prosecuting people for acts related to receiving and publishing information has not previously been tested in court.[358] In 1975, the Justice Department decided after consideration not to charge journalist Seymour Hersh for reporting on US surveillance of the Soviet Union.[360] Two lobbyists for a pro-Israel group were charged in 2005 with receiving and sharing classified information about American policy toward Iran. The charges however did not relate to the publication of the documents and the case was dropped by the Justice Department in 2009 prior to judgement.[358][360]

Assistant Attorney General John Demers said "Julian Assange is no journalist".[361] The US allegation that Assange's publication of these secrets was illegal was deemed controversial by Australia's Seven News as well as CNN.[359][362] The Cato Institute also questioned the US government's position which attempts to position Assange as not a journalist.[363] The Associated Press said Assange's indictment presented media freedom issues, as Assange's solicitation and publication of classified information is a routine job journalists perform.[364]

Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, stated that what Assange is accused of doing is factually different from but legally similar to what professional journalists do.[365] Vladeck also said the Espionage Act charges could provide Assange with an argument against extradition under the US-UK treaty as there is an exemption in the treaty for political offences.[359] Forbes magazine stated that the US government created outcry among journalists in its indictment of Assange as the US sought to debate if Assange was a journalist or not.[366] Suzanne Nossel of PEN America said it was immaterial if Assange was a journalist or publisher and pointed instead to first amendment concerns.[367]

Reactions to the US indictment

Several jurists, politicians, associations, academics and campaigners consider that the arrest of Assange constitutes an attack on freedom of the press and international law.[368][369][370] The Reporters Without Borders said Assange's arrest could "set a dangerous precedent for journalists, whistle-blowers, and other journalistic sources that the US may wish to pursue in the future."[371] Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote that Assange's prosecution for publishing leaked documents is "a major threat to global media freedom".[372] Independent United Nations rights experts such as Agnes Callamard said "the arrest of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange by police in the United Kingdom, after the Ecuadorian Government decided to stop granting him asylum in their London embassy, exposed him to the risk of serious human rights violations, if extradited to the United States".[373]

Reactions in the UK and the European Union

WikiLeaks was recognised as a "media organisation" in 2017 by a UK tribunal, contradicting public assertions to the contrary by some US officials, and possibly supporting Assange's efforts to oppose his extradition to the United States.[374][375][376][377] This is why the Dutch senator Tiny Kox asked the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, whether the arrest of Assange and his possible extradition to the US are in line with the criteria of the European Convention on Human Rights, because Assange can benefit from the protection of the right to freedom of expression and information according the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[378]

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Assange had revealed "evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan" and his extradition to the United States "should be opposed by the British government".[371]

Eva Joly, magistrate and MEP, said that "the arrest of Julian Assange is an attack on freedom of expression, international law and right to asylum".[379] Sevim Dagdelen, a German Bundestag MP who specialises in international law and press law, describes Assange's arrest as "an attack on independent journalism" and says that he "is today seriously endangered".[380][381] Dick Marty, a former state prosecutor of Ticino and rapporteur on the CIA's secret prisons for the Council of Europe, considers the arrest of whistleblowers "very shocking".[382][383] Several well-known Swiss jurists have asked the Federal Council to grant asylum to the founder of Wikileaks because he is threatened with extradition to the United States, which in the past "silenced whistleblowers".[384][385]

The French Union of Journalists (Syndicat national des journalistes (CGT)), said that "the dissemination of documents or information of public interest" could not be considered a legal offence. The union called on Britain "to refuse the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States and to release him."[386]

In a letter, several French Union of Journalists (Syndicat national des journalistes (CGT)) and (Syndicat national des journalistes (CFDT)) ask to Emmanuel Macron to enforce Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights . According them, "Faced with threats to Julian Assange's health and at the risk of seeing him sentenced to life imprisonment, we are saying loud and clear, with the IFJ (Fédération internationale des journalistes) that "journalism is not a crime". They add "Julian Assange denounced in his publications war crimes condemned by the Geneva Convention. Today, he is the one we would like to imprison, we would like to silence. ..... We consider this case one of the most serious attacks on the freedom of the press, against public freedoms within the EU. The IFJ, the French unions and their Australian counterparts have launched a motion to seize this serious case the UN Human Rights Council and the European Parliament and the Council of Europe". [387]

The yellow vests movement called for Assange's release.[388][389][390]

Reactions in the US

While some US politicians supported the arrest and indictment of Julian Assange, several non-governmental organisations of press freedom condemned it.

Mark Warner, vice-chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, welcomed the arrest of Assange, saying that Assange was "a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security".[391] The president of the Center for American Progress and former Obama aide Neera Tanden also welcomed the arrest and condemned Assange's leftist supporters, tweeting that "the Assange cultists are the worst. Assange was the agent of a proto-fascist state, Russia, to undermine democracy. That is fascist behaviour. Anyone on the left should abhor what he did."[391]

The deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Robert Mahoney, said "With this prosecution of Julian Assange, the US government could set out broad legal arguments about journalists soliciting information or interacting with sources that could have chilling consequences for investigative reporting and the publication of information of public interest.[370] According Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor, the charge sheet contained some “very dangerous elements that pose significant risk to national security reporting. Sections of the indictment are vastly overbroad and could have a significant chilling effect – they ought to be rejected.” [370] Carrie DeCell, staff attorney with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said the charges "risk having a chill on journalism". [370] She added,"Many of the allegations fall absolutely within the first amendment's protections of journalistic activity. That's very troubling to us."[370]

Ben Wizner from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) speculated that if authorities were to prosecute Assange "for violating US secrecy laws [it] would set an especially dangerous precedent for US journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest."[392][393] [392][393]

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg condemned the indictment.[394][395] Snowden tweeted that "Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom."[396] Daniel Ellsberg said "Forty-eight years ago, I was the first journalistic source to be indicted. There have been perhaps a dozen since then, nine under President Obama. But Julian Assange is the first journalist to be indicted. If he is extradited to the U.S. and convicted, he will not be the last.The First Amendment is a pillar of our democracy and this is an assault on it. If freedom of speech is violated to this extent, our republic is in danger. Unauthorized disclosures are the lifeblood of the republic."[397][398]

According to Ron Paul, Assange should receive the same kind of protections as the mainstream media when it comes to releasing information. He said "In a free society we're supposed to know the truth  ... In a society where truth becomes treason, then we're in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it." He added "This is media, isn't it? I mean, why don't we prosecute The New York Times or anybody that releases this?"[399]

Reactions in Australia

In October 2019 former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce called for the Federal Government to take action to stop Assange being extradited from the United Kingdom to the US. Later in October, the cross-party "Bring Assange Home Parliamentary Working Group" was established. Its co-chairs are independent MP Andrew Wilkie and North Queensland politician George Christensen. Its members include Greens Richard Di Natale, Adam Bandt and Peter Whish-Wilson, Centre Alliance MPs Rebekha Sharkie and Rex Patrick and independent MP Zali Steggall. The working group will request to visit Assange to determine what support they can provide.[400]

Other reactions

Former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa condemned Assange's arrest.[401] Bolivian President Evo Morales also condemned it.[328] Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the indictment.[402][328]

Imprisonment in the United Kingdom

Since his arrest at the embassy, Assange has been incarcerated in HM Prison Belmarsh in London.[24]

After examining Assange on 9 May 2019, United Nations special rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Nils Melzer concluded, "in addition to physical ailments, Mr Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma."[403] The British government said the nation supported the important work of the rapporteur's mandate but disagreed with some of his observations.[404] In a later interview Melzer criticised the "secretive grand jury indictment in the United States", the "abusive manner in which Swedish prosecutors disseminated, re-cycled and perpetuated their 'preliminary investigation' into alleged sexual offences", the "termination by Ecuador of Mr Assange's asylum status and citizenship without any form of due process", and the "overt bias against Mr Assange being shown by British judges since his arrest". He believed the United States, UK, Sweden and Ecuador are "trying to make an example of Mr Assange before the eyes of the world … as a measure of deterrence for others who might be tempted to imitate Wikileaks and Mr Assange in the future". He also accused journalists of having a "lack of critical independence" and for "spreading abusive and deliberately distorted narratives" about Assange in order to "divert attention from the extremely powerful truths he exposed, including serious crimes and corruption on the part of multiple governments and corporations".[405]

On 13 September, in the magistrates court, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Assange would not be released on 22 September when his prison term ended, because he was a flight risk and his lawyer had not applied for bail.[406] She said when his sentence came to an end, his remand status would change from a serving prisoner to a person facing extradition.[406]

On 1 November 2019, Nils Melzer expressed alarm at the continued deterioration of Julian Assange's health since his arrest and detention earlier this year, saying his life was now at risk. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture said "While the US Government prosecutes Mr. Assange for publishing information about serious human rights violations, including torture and murder, the officials responsible for these crimes continue to enjoy impunity".[407][408] He adds "Despite the medical urgency of my appeal, and the seriousness of the alleged violations, the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law."[407][408] As predicted by Melzer, shortly after the Special Rapporteur's visit, Mr. Assange had to be transferred to the prison's health care unit. "He continues to be detained under oppressive conditions of isolation and surveillance, not justified by his detention status".[407][408] According to this expert, "The blatant and sustained arbitrariness shown by both the judiciary and the Government in this case suggests an alarming departure from the UK's commitment to human rights and the rule of law. This is setting a worrying example, which is further reinforced by the Government's recent refusal to conduct the long-awaited judicial inquiry into British involvement in the CIA torture and rendition programme."[408]

According to an open letter signed by more than 60 doctors in November 2019, Assange's health is declining to an extent that it is feared he could die in prison.[409]

Extradition hearings

On 2 May 2019, a first hearing was held in London into the United States request for Assange's extradition. When asked by the judge whether he consented to the extradition, Assange replied "I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many, many awards and protected many people".[410]

On 13 June, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he had signed the US extradition order.[411] On 14 June, a procedural hearing at Westminster magistrates' court decided that a full extradition hearing should begin on 25 February 2020.[412]

On 21 October 2019, Assange appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court for a case management hearing about his possible extradition to the US. Judge Vanessa Baraitser denied Assange's defence lawyers' request for a three month delay so that they could gather evidence. Government prosecutor James Lewis QC and the US opposed any delay in the extradition proceedings. A further case management hearing will take place on 19 December, before a full extradition hearing at Belmarsh Court in February 2020.[413][414][415] When the judge asked about his understanding of the proceedings Assange replied:

"I don't understand how this is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can't access my writings. It's very difficult where I am to do anything but these people have unlimited resources. They are saying journalists and whistleblowers are enemies of the people. They have unfair advantages dealing with documents. They [know] the interior of my life with my psychologist. They steal my children's DNA. This is not equitable what is happening here".[413]

Writings and opinions

Assange describes himself as an advocate of information transparency and market libertarianism.[416] He has written a few short pieces, including "State and terrorist conspiracies" (2006),[417] "Conspiracy as governance" (2006),[418] "The hidden curse of Thomas Paine" (2008),[419] "What's new about WikiLeaks?" (2011),[420] and the foreword to Cypherpunks (2012).[142] Cypherpunks is primarily a transcript of the World Tomorrow episode eight two-part interview between Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann. In the foreword, Assange said, "the Internet, our greatest tool for emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen".[142] He also contributed research to Suelette Dreyfus's Underground (1997),[50] and received a co-writer credit for the Calle 13 song "Multi_Viral" (2013).

Assange's book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, was published by OR Books on 18 September 2014.[421] The book recounts when Google CEO Eric Schmidt requested a meeting with Assange, while he was on bail in rural Norfolk, UK. Schmidt was accompanied by Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas; Lisa Shields, vice-president of the Council on Foreign Relations; and Scott Malcomson, the communications director for the International Crisis Group. Excerpts were published on the Newsweek website, while Assange participated in a Q&A event that was facilitated by the Reddit website and agreed to an interview with Vogue magazine.[422][423][424]

In her 2017 documentary on Assange, Laura Poitras included a scene of him calling the Swedish sexual assault allegations a "radical feminist conspiracy"—a comment which she says led them to part ways.[425] In 2011, Assange criticised a Private Eye article for portraying WikiLeaks contributor Israel Shamir as anti-Semitic. According to editor Ian Hislop, Assange called the article "an obvious attempt to deprive [WikiLeaks] of Jewish support and donations" and went on to point out that several journalists involved were Jewish. On 1 March 2011, Assange released a statement in which he said, "Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase. In particular, 'Jewish conspiracy' is completely false, in spirit and word. It is serious and upsetting. We treasure our strong Jewish support and staff, just as we treasure the support from pan-Arab democracy activists and others who share our hope for a just world."[426][427]

Honours and awards




Title Year
Collateral Murder 2010
The World Tomorrow 2012 (host)
Mediastan 2013
The Engineer 2013[446]
As himself

See also


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Further reading



  • Robert Manne, "The cypherpunk revolutionary: Julian Assange," The Monthly, March 2011. Reprinted in Robert Manne, Making Trouble: Essays Against the New Australian Complacency (Melbourne: Black Inc. Publishing, 2011).
  • Andrew O'Hagan, "Ghosting: Julian Assange," London Review of Books, vol. 36, no. 5 (6 March 2014).


  • Underground: The Julian Assange Story (2012), Australian TV drama that premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
  • Julian (2012), Australian short film about nine-year-old Julian Assange. The film won several awards and prizes.
  • The Fifth Estate (2013), a thriller that Assange claimed was a 'serious propaganda attack' on WikiLeaks and its staff.
  • Mediastan (2013), documentary produced by Assange; to challenge that of The Fifth Estate.
  • We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013), American documentary.
  • Risk (2016), American documentary.
  • Hacking Justice (2017), documentary.
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