(CNSNews.com) – Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling on the British government to oppose a U.S. extradition request for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted for his alleged role in what the Department of Justice described as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
“The extradition of Julian Assange to the U.S. for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government,” Corbyn tweeted.
Metropolitan Police officers arrested Assange Thursday at the Ecuadorian Embassy in the British capital after its government annulled its offer of asylum, nearly seven years after the controversial Australian sought refuge there.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid welcomed the arrest, thanked Ecuador for its cooperation, and said Assange was now “rightly facing justice” in Britain.
The Foreign Office minister responsible for the Americas, Alan Duncan, said it was “absolutely right that Assange will face justice in the proper way in the U.K. It is for the courts to decide what happens next.”
The 47-year-old later appeared in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, on charges of failing to surrender to that court in 2012, and was found guilty of breaching bail conditions.
Describing Assange’s behavior as “that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” the judge dismissed his lawyer’s argument that he had a “reasonable excuse” for not surrendering.
Assange sought asylum at the embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited from Britain to Sweden, where he faced sexual assault allegations. He said he feared the Swedes would send him to the U.S. where he was wanted for publishing classified cables through WikiLeaks. The sex charges were later dropped.
At Thursday’s hearing he was remanded in custody, and is due to reappear on May 2, by video link from prison, in relation to a U.S. extradition request filed on Thursday.
After his arrest, the Justice Department announced federal charges against him of conspiring with the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning to hack into a classified government computer at the Pentagon.
If convicted on the charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, Assange faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The indictment unsealed Thursday notes that WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011 had publicly released hundreds of thousands of classified documents illicitly downloaded by Manning from U.S. agencies, including reports relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 State Department cables.
During the time that Manning was downloading that data, it said, Assange had agreed to help the analyst to crack a Pentagon computer password – the alleged incident behind the single count on the indictment.
“The primary purpose of the conspiracy was to facilitate Manning’s acquisition and transmission of classified information relating to the national defense of the United States so that WikiLeaks could publicly disseminate the information on its website,” the indictment states.
(Manning was convicted of leaking more than 700,000 documents and served several years of a 35-year prison sentence before being pardoned by President Obama in early 2017. Manning is again in custody since March, for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating matters relating to WikiLeaks.)
‘A stone in our shoe’
Ecuador’s decision to invite British police into the embassy to make the arrest came after a long deterioration in the relationship between Assange and his hosts.
Ecuador’s center-left President Lenin Moreno said during a public ceremony in Quito Thursday the country had rid itself of “a stone in our shoe,” describing Assange’s behavior at the embassy as disrespectful and brattish.
His foreign minister, Jose Valencia, told lawmakers Assange had from his haven in the embassy interfered in the affairs of other nations despite Ecuador’s insistence that he stop doing so. He also cited bad behavior and disrespect towards embassy staff.
Valencia said Ecuador had spent more than $5.8 million dollars on security at the embassy between June 2012 and last September, and a further $400,000 on food, medicine and other costs including legal advice relating to the fugitive.
Ecuador’s relations with the U.S. have improved under Moreno’s presidency, especially since Vice President Mike Pence visited last June. Two months later Ecuador pulled out of ALBA, the leftist regional bloc set up by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2004.
Moreno’s leftist predecessor, Rafael Correa – whose government had approved Assange’s asylum – criticized Moreno on Thursday for giving him up. He said the real reason for doing so was WikiLeaks’ recent reporting on claims that Moreno had benefited improperly from an offshore account in Panama. (Moreno has denied wrongdoing.)
In Russia, where pro-Kremlin media have long afforded favorable coverage to Assange and WikiLeaks’ leaking of sensitive material, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing Moscow would bring up the arrest “within international organizations.”
The U.S. intelligence community has accused Russia of being behind the theft of thousands of DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign emails which WikiLeaks published during the 2016 presidential campaign.