Explained: The story behind Julian Assange
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012, after seeking asylum there in his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden on a rape allegation.
Julian Assange was born in Australia, Townsville in 1971. He is a computer programmer, journalists and publisher and the man behind the controversial website, WikiLeaks. Assange discovered his love for computers at the age of 16 after being gifted one from his mother. As he developed his computer skills, Assange began hacking into databases of many high profile organisations.
Assange set up WikiLeaks in 2006. It made headlines in July 2010, when it released footage of US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq, in 2010, including other confidential documents and images. The US military analyst, Chelsea Manning (born as Bradley Manning), is currently serving a 35-year sentence for passing the classified documents to WikiLeaks. This propelled WikiLeaks into a very controversial lime light.
WikiLeaks published classified information to the public in 2010. Here are some other things that were brought into the light for the world to see:
- The Obama administration worked with Republicans during his first few months in office to protect Bush administration officials facing a criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies that some considered torture.
- Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commanders repeatedly, knowingly lied to the American public about rising sectarian violence in Iraq.
- S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
- S. special-operations forces have targeted militants without trial in secret assassination missions, and many more Afghan civilians have been killed by accident than previously reported.
- China was behind the online attack of Google.
- South Korean official quoted as saying that North Korea’s collapse is likely to happen “two to three years” after the death of the current dictator, Kim Jong Il. The U.S. is already planning for the day North Korea implodes from its own economic woes.
- The U.S. was shipping arms to Saudi Arabia for use in northern Yemen even as it denied any role in the conflict.
- Saudi Arabia is one of the largest origin points for funds supporting international terrorism
- Pope Benedict impeded an investigation into alleged child sex abuse within the Catholic Church
- McDonald’s tried to delay the US government’s implementation of a free-trade agreement in order to put pressure on El Salvador to appoint neutral judges in a $24m lawsuit it was fighting in the country.
If you wish to see the whole list, then click here.
Alongside the launch of WikiLeaks, Assange was subject to a rape allegation by two women, Miss A and Miss W in Sweden. They both claim that on separate occasions, whilst Assange was in Sweden during the 11th-17th August, they had intercourse with Assange but claim that what started as consensual sex became non-consensual.
Sometime between 17 and 20 August, “Miss W” and “Miss A” were in contact with one another and apparently shared with a journalist the concerns they have about aspects of their respective sexual encounters with Mr Assange.The reports against Assange are very coincidental, as they arose during a time where Assange was in the public spotlight for allegations of espionage.
On the 20th August 2010, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office first issues an arrest warrant for Mr Assange. It says there are two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation. Mr Assange says the claims are “without basis”, and in November that year, the Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant.
An extradition in Britain, took place in December 2010, where the High Court granted Assange bail after his supporters played £240,000 in case and sureties. However, in a turn of events in February 2011, a British court ruled that Assange should be extradited back to Sweden, with the Supreme Court agreeing to this in 2012.
Therefore, whilst on bail, Assange applied for political asylum in Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Where he is granted asylum as according to Ecuador, ‘there are fears his human rights might be violated if he is extradited’.
Swedish prosecutors dropped two sex assault claims against Mr Assange last year. However, he still faces the more serious accusation of rape. Currently, Assange remains in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy.
What’s going on at the moment?
In 2014, Assange complained to UN panel that he was being ‘arbitrarily detained’, as he was unable to leave the premises without being arrested. He argued that living in 30 square metres of the embassy with no sunlight or fresh air had taken a “significant toll” on his mental health.
Surprisingly to some, the UN panel have concluded that his case does amount to ‘arbitrary detention’.
“The panel said it had adopted an opinion “in which it considered that Mr. Julian Assange was arbitrarily detained by the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
It added: “The working group also considered that the detention should be brought to an end and that Mr. Assange should be afforded the right to compensation.”
In addition to this, the panel have also said that the he should be able to claim compensation from Britain and from Sweden, where he faces questioning over a rape allegation. However, Britain and Sweden immediately rejected the panel’s ruling, which is unbinding to the countries.
Assange made a rare appearance on a balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy, after claiming asylum 4 years ago.
Following the UN’s report, a press conference was held to answer any questions regarding the decision.
So what next for Assange?
Well, apparently not much. A government spokesperson said the ruling “changed nothing”, and the Foreign Office will be contesting the panel’s decision.
“An allegation of rape is still outstanding and a European arrest warrant in place, so the UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden,” he said.
After the recent UN decision regarding Assange, support for his release will increase and may force the governments of the UK and Sweden to bow down to public pressures.