Julian Assange has accused Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, of insulting the United Nations in his response to a panel finding that Assange’s circumstances amount to “arbitrary detention”.
Hammond called the panel’s finding “ridiculous” and said the Wikileaks founder was a “fugitive from justice”. Assange said the remarks were “beneath the stature that a foreign minister should express in this situation”.
Appearing at a west London press conference by videolink from the Ecuadorian embassy, where he has remained since seeking asylum in 2012, Assange said that if Sweden and the UK continued to dispute the report, “the diplomatic effect is that it will become difficult for [the two countries] to be treated seriously as international players”.
On Feb. 4, 2016, it was announced by the BBC that the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had “ruled in favor” of Julian Assange. The ruling relates to Assange’s claim that he has been “unlawfully detained” at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2010.
He had been granted political asylum in the embassy after a European Arrest Warrant had been issued by Sweden in relation to sexual assault charges in that country. We look back at the timeline of Assange’s career at WikiLeaks and the events that led to his seeking refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy.
2006 – WikiLeaks starts functioning
In 2006, the Australian computer hacker and Internet freedom advocate founds Wikileaks.org, as a platform for whistle-blowers to post sensitive and secret political documents anonymously.
(Pictured) Julian Assange leaves a Melbourne court after facing charges of computer hacking on May 6, 1995.
February 2008 – Cayman Island corruption
WikiLeaks releases information of illegal activities at the Cayman Islands branch of the Swiss Bank Julius Baer. The information was provided by former Swiss banker Rudolf Elmer (R) in 2011. The bank proceeds to sue WikiLeaks and, having obtained an injunction, the wikileaks.org website is temporally suspended.
April 2010 – Collateral Murder
WikiLeaks releases a video of a 2007 U.S. military helicopter strike on Baghdad, and the casualties that resulted from this attack, which included two journalists whose cameras were mistaken for weapons.
(Pictured) One of the last photographs taken by Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, before being killed in the strike.
June 7, 2010 – Manning arrested
The U.S. military announces that Army Specialist Bradley Manning (pictured), who was deployed to Baghdad, has been arrested in connection with the leaking of government files to WikiLeaks and aiding the enemy.
July 25, 2010 – Afghanistan war logs
More than 91,000 documents, most of them secret U.S. military reports about the war in Afghanistan, are released by WikiLeaks. In October, WikiLeaks releases another cache of 400,000 classified military files chronicling the war in Iraq from 2004 to 2009, the largest leak of its kind in U.S. military history.
(Pictured) Assange speaks in London on July 26, 2010, with a copy of The Guardian newspaper, who printed a number of the leaked documents.
Nov. 18, 2010 – A wanted man
A Swedish court orders Assange’s detention due to an investigation by a Swedish prosecutor into allegations against him of rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion.
(Pictured) Chief prosecutor Marianne Ny, head of the Swedish investigation, at a press conference in Gothenburg on the day of Assange’s arrest on Dec. 7, 2010.
Nov. 28, 2010 – Diplomatic releases
WikiLeaks releases thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables that include candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of security threats. The leaks make headlines across the globe.
Dec. 7, 2010 – Catch and release
Assange is arrested by British police on a European warrant issued by Sweden, and held in jail after a judge refuses to grant bail. Bail, set at £200,000 ($293,000), is eventually granted on Dec. 16.
(Pictured) Assange addresses the media on the steps of the High Court after his release.
August 25, 2011 – Cablegate
WikiLeaks releases thousands of previously unpublished U.S. diplomatic cables from its cache of more than 250,000 State Department reports it received in 2010.
November 2, 2011 – Extradition
Britain’s High Court rules Assange should be extradited to Sweden. A month later, Assange is given permission to appeal. However, the court backs Assange’s extradition to Sweden in May 2012 over alleged sex offences. Assange appeals in June 2012, but it is rejected.
(Pictured) Assange speaks outside the High Court after the ruling.
June 19, 2012 – Refuge in the embassy
Assange takes refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and asks for political asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden. He claims that, if extradited to Sweden, he fears that Washington will seek his transfer to the United States. Police say he faces arrest for breaking the conditions of his bail.
(Pictured) Assange addresses WikiLeaks supporters and the media from the Ecuadorian Embassy’s balcony.
Aug. 16, 2012 – Asylum granted
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino (pictured) announces that the country has granted Assange political asylum.
Feb. 2013 – Running costs
The British police disclose that as of Jan. 31 2013, the full cost of posting officers outside the Ecuadorian Embassy is an estimated £2.9 million ($4.5 million).
Feb. 4, 2016 – UN ruling
Assange announces, via Twitter, that he will give himself up to the U.K. authorities if the U.N. panel rules against his claim that he is being “arbitrarily detained.”
On the same day, the BBC announces on its website that the U.N. panel has ruled in his favor, although it will not formally announce the ruling until Feb. 5. The U.N. has no formal influence over the U.K. or Swedish authorities, and the U.K. has confirmed that it is still obligated to extradite Assange should he leave the embassy.
Although three of the cases against Assange were dropped in August 2015, Sweden still wishes to question him over a rape allegation. He said they could become subject to penalties “up to and including sanctions”, though that would be a matter for the UN.
Closing his remarks, Assange said: “I miss my family. I have today a really significant victory that has brought a smile to my face.”
Scores of international reporters and more than 25 film crews crammed into the small upper room at the Frontline Club for the noon press conference, with some forced to stand on chairs and benches to get a view.
Baltasar Garzón, who heads Assange’s international legal team, said the arrest warrant against his client was now “empty and void”. He said any continuation of Assange’s confinement “becomes a form of torture”.
Garzón, a Spanish judge, came to prominence in 1998 when he issued an arrest warrant for Chile’s former president Augusto Pinochet.