Julian Assange
Assange in 2014
Julian Paul Hawkins

(1971-07-03) 3 July 1971 (age 51)
  • Australia
  • Ecuador (2017–2021)
  • Editor
  • publisher
  • activist
Years active1987–present
Known forFounding WikiLeaks
TitleDirector[1] and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks (until September 2018); publisher (since September 2018)[2]
Political partyWikiLeaks (2012–2015)
  • Teresa
    (m. 1989; div. 1999)
  • Stella Moris
    (m. 2022)
AwardsFull list
Julian Assange Autograph.svg

Julian Paul Assange (/əˈsɑːnʒ/;[3] Hawkins; born 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.[a] These leaks included the Baghdad airstrike Collateral Murder video (April 2010),[4][5] 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.[6]

In November 2010, Sweden issued a European arrest warrant for Assange over allegations of sexual misconduct.[7] Assange said the allegations were a pretext for his extradition from Sweden to the United States over his role in the publication of secret American documents.[8][9]

After losing his battle against extradition to Sweden, he breached bail and took refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London in June 2012.[10] He was granted asylum by Ecuador in August 2012[11] on the grounds of political persecution, with the presumption that if he were extradited to Sweden, he would be eventually extradited to the United States.[12] Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation in 2019, saying their evidence had "weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question".[13]

During the 2016 U.S. election campaign, WikiLeaks published confidential Democratic Party emails, showing that the party's national committee favoured Hillary Clinton over her rival Bernie Sanders in the primaries.[14][15] In March 2017, WikiLeaks published a series of documents which detailed the CIA's electronic surveillance and cyber warfare capabilities,[16] after which senior CIA officials discussed potentially kidnapping or assassinating Assange.[17]

On 11 April 2019, Assange's asylum was withdrawn following a series of disputes with the Ecuadorian authorities.[18] The police were invited into the embassy and he was arrested.[19] He was found guilty of breaching the Bail Act and sentenced to 50 weeks in prison.[20] The United States government unsealed an indictment against Assange related to the leaks provided by 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, as well as press freedom organisations, criticised the government's decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act, characterising it as an attack on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press.[21][22]

On 4 January 2021, UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled against the United States' request to extradite Assange and stated that doing so would be "oppressive" given concerns over Assange's mental health and risk of suicide.[23] On 6 January 2021, Assange was denied bail, pending an appeal by the United States.[24] On 10 December 2021, the High Court in London ruled that Assange could be extradited to the US to face the charges.[25] In March 2022, the UK Supreme Court refused Assange permission to appeal.[26] On 17 June 2022, Home Secretary Priti Patel approved the extradition.[27] On 1 July 2022, it was announced that Assange had formally appealed against the extradition order.[28]

Assange has been confined in Belmarsh, a category A prison, in London since April 2019.[29]

Early life

Assange was born Julian Paul Hawkins on 3 July 1971 in Townsville, Queensland,[30][31][32] to Christine Ann Hawkins (b. 1951),[33] a visual artist,[34]: 34  and John Shipton, an anti-war activist and builder.[35] The couple separated before their son was born.[35] When Julian was a year old, his mother married Brett Assange,[36][37][38] an actor with whom she ran a small theatre company and whom Julian regards as his father (choosing Assange as his surname).[31][39] Christine and Brett Assange divorced around 1979. Christine then became involved with Leif Meynell, also known as Leif Hamilton, whom Julian Assange later described as "a member of an Australian cult" called The Family. They separated in 1982.[30][34][40]

Julian had a nomadic childhood, living in more than 30 Australian towns and cities by the time he reached his mid-teens,[41][42] when he settled with his mother and half-brother in Melbourne.[36] Assange attended many schools, including Goolmangar Primary School in New South Wales (1979–1983)[39] and Townsville State High School in Queensland[43] as well as being schooled at home.[37]

Assange studied programming, mathematics and physics at Central Queensland University (1994)[44] and the University of Melbourne (2003–2006),[36][45] but did not complete a degree.[46]

In 1987, aged 16, Assange began hacking under the name Mendax,[37][47] supposedly taken from Horace's splendide mendax (nobly lying).[48] He and two others, known as "Trax" and "Prime Suspect", formed a hacking group they called "the International Subversives".[37] According to David Leigh and Luke Harding, Assange may have been involved in the WANK (Worms Against Nuclear Killers) hack at NASA in 1989, but this has never been proven.[49][34]: 42 

In September 1991, Assange was discovered hacking into the Melbourne master terminal of Nortel, a Canadian multinational telecommunications corporation.[37] The Australian Federal Police tapped Assange's phone line (he was using a modem), raided his home at the end of October[50] and eventually charged him in 1994 with 31 counts of hacking and related crimes.[37] 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.[49][51] He received a lenient penalty due to the absence of malicious or mercenary intent and his disrupted childhood.[51][52][53][54]

Assange, c. 2006
Assange, c. 2006

In 1993, Assange used his computing skills to help the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit to prosecute individuals responsible for publishing and distributing child pornography.[55][56]

In the same year, he was involved in starting one of the first public Internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network.[36][57] He began programming in 1994, authoring or co-authoring the TCP port scanner Strobe (1995),[58][59] patches to the open-source database management system PostgreSQL (1996),[60][61] the Usenet caching software NNTPCache (1996),[62] the Rubberhose deniable encryption system (1997)[63][64] (which reflected his growing interest in cryptography),[65] and Surfraw, a command-line interface for web-based search engines (2000).[66] During this period, he also moderated the AUCRYPTO forum,[65] ran Best of Security, a website "giving advice on computer security" that had 5,000 subscribers in 1996,[34]: 45  and contributed research to Suelette Dreyfus's Underground (1997), a book about Australian hackers, including the International Subversives.[47][67] In 1998, he co-founded the company Earthmen Technology.[54]

Assange stated that he registered the domain leaks.org in 1999, but "didn't do anything with it".[54] 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."[65]


Main articles: WikiLeaks and List of material published by WikiLeaks

Early publications

Assange at the "New Media Days 09" in Copenhagen November 2009
Assange at the "New Media Days 09" in Copenhagen November 2009

Assange and others established WikiLeaks in 2006.[citation needed] Assange became a member of the organisation's advisory board[68] and described himself as the editor-in-chief.[69] From 2007 to 2010, Assange travelled continuously on WikiLeaks business, visiting Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.[37][42][70][71][72] During this time, the organisation published internet censorship lists, leaks,[73] and classified media from anonymous sources. These publications including revelations about drone strikes in Yemen, corruption across the Arab world,[74] extrajudicial executions by Kenyan police,[75] 2008 Tibetan unrest in China,[76] and the "Petrogate" oil scandal in Peru.[77]

Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg at the 26C3 in Berlin, December 2009
Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg at the 26C3 in Berlin, December 2009

WikiLeaks' international profile increased in 2008 when a Swiss bank, Julius Baer, tried unsuccessfully to block the site's publication of bank records.[78] Assange commented that financial institutions ordinarily "operate outside the rule of law", and received extensive legal support from free-speech and civil rights groups.[79][80]

In September 2008, during the 2008 United States presidential election campaign, the contents of a Yahoo! account belonging to Sarah Palin (the running mate of Republican presidential nominee John McCain) were posted on WikiLeaks after being hacked into by members of Anonymous.[81] After briefly appearing on a blog, the membership list of the far-right British National Party was posted to WikiLeaks on 18 November 2008.[82]

WikiLeaks released a report disclosing a "serious nuclear accident" at the Iranian Natanz nuclear facility in 2009.[83] According to media reports, the accident may have been the direct result of a cyber-attack at Iran's nuclear program, carried out with the Stuxnet computer worm, a cyber-weapon built jointly by the United States and Israel.[84]

Iraq and Afghan War logs

Gun camera footage of the airstrike of 12 July 2007 in Baghdad, showing the deaths of journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh by a US helicopter

The material WikiLeaks published between 2006 and 2009 attracted various degrees of international attention,[85] but after it began publishing documents supplied by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, WikiLeaks became a household name.

In April 2010, WikiLeaks released the Collateral Murder video,[4] which showed United States soldiers fatally shooting 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq,[86] including Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant Saeed Chmagh.[5] Reuters had previously made a request to the US government for the Collateral Murder video under Freedom of Information but had been denied. Assange and others worked for a week to break the U.S. military's encryption of the video.[87][88]

In October 2010, WikiLeaks published the Iraq War logs, a collection of 391,832 United States Army field reports from the Iraq War covering the period from 2004 to 2009.[89] Assange said that he hoped the publication would "correct some of that attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war, and which has continued after the war".[90]

Regarding his own role within WikiLeaks, he said, "We always expect tremendous criticism. It is my role to be the lightning rod ... to attract the attacks against the organization for our work, and that is a difficult role. On the other hand, I get undue credit".[91]

Other Manning material published by WikiLeaks included the Afghanistan War logs in July 2010,[92] and the Guantánamo Bay files in April 2011.[93]

Release of US diplomatic cables

In November 2010, WikiLeaks published a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables,[94] known as the "Cablegate" files. WikiLeaks initially worked with established Western media organisations, and later with smaller regional media organisations, while also publishing the cables upon which their reporting was based.[95][96] The files showed United States espionage against the United Nations and other world leaders,[97][98][99] 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.[100][101] The Cablegate and Iraq and Afghan War releases impacted diplomacy and public opinion globally, with responses varying by region.[96]

Release of unredacted cables

Main article: United States diplomatic cables leak § September 2011 release of mostly unredacted cables

In 2011 a series of events compromised the security of a WikiLeaks file containing the leaked US diplomatic cables.[102] In August 2010, Assange gave Guardian journalist David Leigh an encryption key and a URL where he could locate the full file. In February 2011 David Leigh and Luke Harding of The Guardian published the book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy containing the encryption key. Leigh said he believed the key was a temporary one that would expire within days. Wikileaks supporters disseminated the encrypted files to mirror sites in December 2010 after Wikileaks experienced cyber-attacks. When Wikileaks learned what had happened it notified the US State Department. On 25 August 2011, the German magazine Der Freitag published an article giving details which would enable people to piece the information together. On 2 September 2011 Wikileaks made the cables public as government intelligence agencies then knew the contents but potential targets might not. The Guardian wrote that the decision to publish the cables was made by Assange alone, a decision that it, and its four previous media partners, condemned. Glenn Greenwald wrote that "WikiLeaks decided -- quite reasonably -- that the best and safest course was to release all the cables in full, so that not only the world's intelligence agencies but everyone had them, so that steps could be taken to protect the sources and so that the information in them was equally available".[103][104] The unredacted cables were released by Cryptome on 1 September, a day before Wikileaks did.[105] The US cited the release in the opening of its request for extradition of Assange, saying his actions put lives at risk.[106] The defence gave evidence it said would show that Assange was careful to protect lives.[107][108]

Later publications

On 24 April 2011, WikiLeaks began publishing the Guantanamo Bay files leak, 779 classified reports on prisoners, past and present, held by the U.S. at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. The documents, dated from 2002 to 2008, revealed prisoners, some of whom were coerced to confess, included children, the elderly and mentally disabled.[109][93]

In July 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing the Syria Files, a collection of more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, government ministries and companies. Assange said the "Syria Files" collection

helps us not merely to criticize 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[110]

In 2013, Assange analysed the Kissinger cables held at the US National Archives and released them in searchable form.[111]

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".[112]

In June 2015, WikiLeaks began publishing confidential and secret Saudi Arabian government documents.[113]

On 25 November 2016, WikiLeaks released emails and internal documents that provided details on U.S. military operations in Yemen from 2009 to March 2015. In a statement accompanying the release of the "Yemen Files", Assange said about the U.S. 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."[114]

In December 2016, WikiLeaks published emails from the Turkish government in response to Erdoğan's post-coup purges in Turkey. The emails covered the period from 2010 to July 2016. In response, Turkey blocked access to the WikiLeaks site.[115][116][117]

Legal issues

US criminal investigation

Assange speaks on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral in London, 16 October 2011
Assange speaks on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral in London, 16 October 2011

After WikiLeaks released the Manning material, United States authorities began investigating WikiLeaks and Assange personally to prosecute them under the Espionage Act of 1917.[118] In November 2010, US Attorney-General Eric Holder said there was "an active, ongoing criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks.[6] It emerged from legal documents leaked over the ensuing months that WikiLeaks was being investigated by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia.[119]

In August 2011, WikiLeaks volunteer Sigurdur Thordarson, working in his home country Iceland, contacted the FBI and, after presenting a copy of Assange's passport at the American embassy, became the first informant to work for the FBI from inside WikiLeaks, and gave the FBI several hard drives he had copied from Asssange and core WikiLeaks members.[120][121] In November 2011, WikiLeaks dismissed Thordarson due to his embezzlement of $50,000, to which charge (along with several other offences) he later pleaded guilty in an Icelandic court.[122] According to Thordarson, a few months after his dismissal by WikiLeaks the FBI agreed to pay him $5,000 as compensation for work missed while meeting with agents.[123]

In December 2011, prosecutors in the Chelsea Manning case revealed the existence of chat logs between Manning and an interlocutor they claimed was Assange.[124][125] Assange said that WikiLeaks has no way of knowing the identity of its sources and that chats with sources, including user-names, were anonymous.[126][127][128] In January 2011, Assange described the allegation that WikiLeaks had conspired with Manning as "absolute nonsense".[129] The logs were presented as evidence during Manning's court-martial in June–July 2013.[130] The prosecution argued that they showed WikiLeaks helping Manning reverse-engineer a password.[131] During her trial, Manning said she acted on her own to send documents to WikiLeaks and no one associated with WikiLeaks pressured her into giving more information.[132]

In 2013, US officials said it was unlikely that the Justice Department would indict Assange for publishing classified documents because it would also have to prosecute the news organisations and writers who published classified material.[133]

In June 2013, The New York Times said that court and other documents suggested that Assange was being examined by a grand jury and "several government agencies", including by the FBI.[134] Court documents published in May 2014 suggest that WikiLeaks was under "active and ongoing" investigation at that time.[135]

Some Snowden documents published in 2014 showed that the U.S. government had put Assange on its 2010 "Manhunting Timeline", an annual account of efforts to capture or kill alleged terrorists and others,[136] and in the same period urged allies to open criminal investigations into Assange.[137] In the same documents, there was a proposal by the National Security Agency (NSA) to designate WikiLeaks a "malicious foreign actor", thus increasing the surveillance against it.[136]

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.[138] In July 2015, Assange called himself a "wanted journalist" in an open letter to the French president published in Le Monde.[139] In a December 2015 court submission, the US government confirmed its "sensitive, ongoing law enforcement proceeding into the Wikileaks matter".[140][non-primary source needed]

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.[141] However, after President Donald Trump took office, CIA director Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped up pursuit of Assange.[142]

In April 2017, US officials were preparing to file formal charges against Assange.[143] Legal scholar Steve Vladeck said prosecutors accelerated the case in 2019 due to the impending statute of limitations on Assange's largest leaks.[144]

Swedish sexual assault allegations

Main article: Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority

Demonstration in support of Assange in front of Sydney Town Hall, 10 December 2010
Demonstration in support of Assange in front of Sydney Town Hall, 10 December 2010

Assange visited Sweden in August 2010. On 20 August, he became the subject of sexual assault allegations from two women.[145] On 30 August, Assange was questioned by the Stockholm police regarding the allegations, which he denied.[146][147][148] The preliminary investigation was later discontinued,[149] but on 1 September 2010, Överåklagare (Director of Public Prosecution) Marianne Ny decided to resume the preliminary investigation concerning all of the original allegations. Assange left Sweden on 27 September 2010.

On 18 November 2010, the Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant.[150] Later that day, Assange told journalist Raffi Khatchadourian that Sweden has a "very, very poor judicial system" and a culture of "crazed radical feminist ideology". He commented that, more importantly, his case involved international politics, and that "Sweden is a U.S. satrapy."[151] In a later interview he described Sweden as "the Saudi Arabia of feminism."[152] On 8 December 2010, Assange gave himself up to British police and attended his first extradition hearing, where he was remanded in custody. On 16 December 2010, at the second hearing, he was granted bail by the High Court of Justice 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.[153]

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.[154]

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.[155] These interviews, which began on 14 November 2016, involved the British police, Swedish prosecutors and Ecuadorian officials, and were eventually published online.[156] 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".[157][158][147][159]

On 19 May 2017, the Swedish authorities suspended their investigation, saying 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.[160][161][162]

Following Assange's arrest on 11 April 2019, the case was reopened, in May 2019, under prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson.[163] On 19 November, she announced that she had discontinued her investigation, saying that the evidence was not strong enough. 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".[13]

Ecuadorian embassy period

Entering the embassy

Assange on the balcony of Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012
Assange on the balcony of Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012

On 19 June 2012, the Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, announced that Assange had applied for political asylum, that the Ecuadorian government was considering his request, and that Assange was at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.[164]

Assange and his supporters said he was not concerned about any proceedings in Sweden as such, but said that the Swedish allegations were designed to discredit him and were a pretext for his extradition from Sweden to the United States.[165][166][167]

British Foreign Secretary William Hague gave a news conference in response. He said "We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so," whilst adding, "The United Kingdom does not recognise the principle of diplomatic asylum."[168]

Assange breached his bail conditions by taking up residence in the embassy rather than appearing in court, and faced arrest if he left. Assange's supporters, including journalist Jemima Goldsmith, journalist John Pilger, and filmmaker Ken Loach, forfeited £200,000 in bail.[169] Goldsmith said she was surprised at his asylum bid and had expected him to face the Swedish allegations.[170]

The UK government wrote to Patiño, saying that the police were entitled to enter the embassy and arrest Assange under UK law.[171] Patiño said it 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 embassy from June 2012 to October 2015 to arrest Assange if he left the embassy, and compel him to attend the extradition appeal hearing. The police officers were 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 Metropolitan Police Service said the cost of the policing for the period was £12.6 million.[172]

WikiLeaks insiders stated that Assange decided to seek asylum because he felt abandoned by the Australian government.[167] The Australian attorney-general, Nicola Roxon, had written to Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, saying that Australia would not seek to involve itself in any international exchanges about Assange's future. She suggested that if Assange was imprisoned in the US, he could apply for an international prisoner transfer to Australia. Assange's lawyers described the letter as a "declaration of abandonment".[167]

Ecuadoran foreign minister Ricardo Patiño met with Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy on 16 June 2013
Ecuadoran foreign minister Ricardo Patiño met with Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy on 16 June 2013

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.[173][174][175][176] In its formal statement, Ecuador said 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".[177] Latin American states expressed support for Ecuador.[178][179][180][181] Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa confirmed on 18 August that Assange could stay at the embassy indefinitely,[182][183][184] and the following day Assange gave his first speech from the balcony.[185][186] An office converted into a studio apartment, equipped with a bed, telephone, sun lamp, computer, shower, treadmill, and kitchenette, became his home until 11 April 2019.[187][188][189][190]

Public positions

WikiLeaks Party

Assange stood for the Australian Senate in the 2013 Australian federal election for the newly formed WikiLeaks Party but failed to win a seat.[191] The party experienced internal dissent over its governance and electoral tactics and was deregistered due to low membership numbers in 2015.[192][193]

Edward Snowden

In 2013, Assange and others in WikiLeaks helped whistleblower Edward Snowden flee from US law enforcement. After the United States cancelled Snowden's passport, stranding him in Russia, they considered transporting him to Latin America on the presidential jet of a sympathetic Latin American leader. In order to throw the US off the scent, they spoke about the jet of the Bolivian president Evo Morales, instead of the jet they were considering.[194] In July 2013, Morales's jet was forced to land in Austria after the US pressured Italy, France, and Spain to deny the jet access to their airspace over false rumours Snowden was on board.[195][196] Assange said the grounding "reveals the true nature of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States" as "a phone call from U.S. intelligence was enough to close the airspace to a booked presidential flight, which has immunity". Assange advised Snowden that he would be safest in Russia which was better able to protect its borders than Venezuela, Brazil or Ecuador.[194][197] In 2015, Maria Luisa Ramos, the Bolivian ambassador to Russia, accused Assange of putting Morales' life at risk. Assange stated that he regretted what happened but that "[w]e can't predict that other countries engage in some ... unprecedented criminal operation".[194]

Operation Speargun

Documents provided by Edward Snowden showed that in 2012 and 2013 the New Zealand government worked to establish a secret mass surveillance programme which it called "Operation Speargun". On 15 September 2014 while campaigning for Kim Dotcom, Assange appeared via remote video link on his Moment of Truth town hall meeting[198][199] held in Auckland, which discussed the programme. Assange said the Snowden documents showed that he had been a target of the programme and that "Operation Speargun" represented "an extreme, bizarre, Orwellian future that is being constructed secretly in New Zealand".[200]

Demonstration outside the Ecuadorian embassy to free Assange, 16 June 2013
Demonstration outside the Ecuadorian embassy to free Assange, 16 June 2013

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.[139] In response to this letter, Hollande said: "France cannot act on his request. The situation of Mr Assange does not present an immediate danger."[201]

John Pilger, Richard Gizbert, and Assange – 'The WikiLeaks Files' Book Launch – Foyles, London, 29 September 2015
John Pilger, Richard Gizbert, and Assange – 'The WikiLeaks Files' Book Launch – Foyles, London, 29 September 2015

Other developments

Assange said he would go to Sweden if provided with a diplomatic guarantee that he would not be turned over to the United States,[202] to which the Swedish foreign ministry stated that Sweden's legislation does not allow any judicial decision like extradition to be predetermined.[203] However, the Swedish government is free to reject extradition requests from non-EU countries, independent of any court decision.[204] In 2013, Sweden tried to drop the Assange extradition but the English Crown Prosecution Service dissuaded them from doing so.[205]

Assange's lawyers invited the Swedish prosecutor four times to come and question him at the embassy, but the offer was refused.[206] In March 2015, faced with the prospect of the Swedish statute of limitations expiring for some of the allegations, the prosecutor relented and agreed to question Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy.[207] The UK agreed to the interview in May awaiting Ecuadorean approval.[208] In 2015, La Repubblica stated that it had 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".[209] A further appeal was rejected in September 2019.[209][210]

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. The Working Group said Assange should be allowed to walk free and be given compensation.[211][212] The UK and Swedish governments denied the charge of detaining Assange arbitrarily.[213] The UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said the charge 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",[214] and called the panel's ruling "flawed in law".[215] Swedish prosecutors called the group's charge irrelevant.[216] The UK said it would arrest Assange should he leave the embassy.[217] Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, stated that the finding is "not binding on British law".[218] US legal scholar Noah Feldman described the Working Group's conclusion as astonishing, summarising it 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."[219]

In September 2016[220] and again on 12 January 2017,[221] WikiLeaks tweeted that Assange would agree to US prison in exchange for President Obama granting Chelsea Manning clemency. After commuting Manning's sentence on 17 January 2017, Obama stated that Assange's offer had not been a consideration.[222]

On 19 May 2017, 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 to avoid extradition to the United States.[223]

2016 U.S. presidential election

Main article: 2016 Democratic National Committee email leak

During the 2016 US Democratic Party presidential primaries, WikiLeaks hosted a searchable database of emails sent or received by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. The emails had been previously released by the US State Department under a Freedom of information request in February 2016.[224][225] The emails were a major point of discussion during the presidential election and prompted an FBI investigation of Clinton for using a private email server for classified documents while she was US Secretary of State.[226]

In February 2016, Assange wrote: "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."[227] On 25 July, following the Republican National Convention, Assange said that choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is like choosing between cholera or gonorrhoea. "Personally, I would prefer neither."[228][229][230] In an Election Day statement, Assange criticised both Clinton and Trump, saying that "The Democratic and Republican candidates have both expressed hostility towards whistleblowers."[231]

Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chairwoman following WikiLeaks releases suggesting bias against Bernie Sanders.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chairwoman following WikiLeaks releases suggesting bias against Bernie Sanders.

On 22 July 2016, WikiLeaks released emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in which the DNC seemingly presented ways of undercutting Clinton's competitor Bernie Sanders and showed apparent favouritism towards Clinton. The release led to the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and an apology to Sanders from the DNC.[232][233] The New York Times wrote that Assange had timed the release to coincide with the 2016 Democratic National Convention because he believed Clinton had pushed for his indictment and he regarded her as a "liberal war hawk".[15]

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.[234]

In mid-October, the Ecuadorian government severed Assange's Internet connection because of the leaks.[235] In December, Assange said the connection had been restored.[236]

In November 2017, WikiLeaks' Twitter account corresponded with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 presidential election.[237] The correspondence shows that WikiLeaks actively solicited the co-operation of Trump Jr., a campaign surrogate and advisor in the campaign of his father. WikiLeaks urged the Trump campaign to reject the results of the 2016 presidential election at a time when it looked as if the Trump campaign would lose.[237] WikiLeaks asked Trump Jr. to share a WikiLeaks tweet with the quote "Can’t we just drone this guy?" which 'far-right website True Pundit claimed without evidence that Hillary Clinton had made about Assange.[238][239] WikiLeaks also shared a link to a site that would help people to search through WikiLeaks documents.[237] Trump Jr. shared both. After the election, WikiLeaks also requested that the president-elect push Australia to appoint Assange as ambassador to the US. Trump Jr. provided this correspondence to congressional investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.[237]

Cybersecurity experts attributed the attack to the Russian government.[240] The Central Intelligence Agency, together with several other agencies, concluded that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the DNC servers, as well as Podesta's email account, and provided the information to WikiLeaks to bolster Trump's election campaign.[241] As a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, 12 Russian GRU military intelligence agents were indicted on 13 July 2018 for the attack on the DNC mail-server.

According to the Mueller report, this group shared these mails using the pseudonym Guccifer 2.0 with WikiLeaks and other entities.[242] The investigation also unearthed communications between Guccifer 2.0, WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign, in which they coordinated the release of the material.[234] When asked about Guccifer 2.0's leaks, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said "These look very much like they’re from the Russians. But in some ways, they look very amateur, and almost look too much like the Russians."[243][244] The Senate Intelligence Committee reported that "WikiLeaks actively sought, and played, a key role in the Russian intelligence campaign and very likely knew it was assisting a Russian intelligence influence effort."[245][246][247]

In interviews, Assange repeatedly said that the Russian government was not the source of the DNC and Podesta emails,[248][249][250] and accused the Clinton campaign of "a kind of neo-McCarthy hysteria" about Russian involvement.[251] On the eve of the election, Assange addressed the criticism he had received for publishing Clinton material, 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 original information on Trump, Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson's campaign.[252][253]

A 2017 article in Foreign Policy said that WikiLeaks turned down leaks on the Russian government, focusing instead on hacks relating to the US presidential election.[254] WikiLeaks said that, as far as it could recall, the material was already public.[254]

In April 2018, the DNC sued WikiLeaks for the theft of the DNC's information under various Virginia and US federal statutes. It accused WikiLeaks and Russia of a "brazen attack on American democracy".[255] The Committee to Protect Journalists said that the lawsuit raised several important press freedom questions.[256] The suit was dismissed with prejudice in July 2019. Judge John Koeltl said that 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.[257]

Seth Rich

Main article: Murder of Seth Rich

In a July 2016 interview on Dutch television, Assange hinted that DNC staffer Seth Rich was the source of the DNC emails and that Rich had been killed as a result. Seeking clarification, the interviewer asked Assange whether Rich's killing was "simply a murder," to which Assange answered, "No. There's no finding. So, I'm suggesting that our sources take risks, and they become concerned to see things occurring like that."[258][259] WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information about his murder and wrote: "We treat threats toward any suspected source of WikiLeaks with extreme gravity. This should not be taken to imply that Seth Rich was a source to WikiLeaks or to imply that his murder is connected to our publications."[260]

Assange's comments were highlighted by Fox News, The Washington Times and conspiracy website InfoWars[260][261][262] and set off a spike in attention to the murder. Assange's statements lent credibility and visibility to what had at that point been a conspiracy theory in the fringe parts of the Internet.[263] According to the Mueller investigation, Assange "implied falsely" that Rich was the source ostensibly to obscure the fact that Russian military intelligence was the source,[264][265][266][267] and Assange received the emails when Rich was already dead and continued to confer with the Russian hackers to coordinate the release of the material.[234][265]

Later years in the embassy

Rafael Correa, who was openly sympathetic to Assange, served as President of Ecuador from 2007 to 2017
Rafael Correa, who was openly sympathetic to Assange, served as President of Ecuador from 2007 to 2017

In March 2017, WikiLeaks began releasing the largest leak of CIA documents in history, codenamed Vault 7. The documents included details of the CIA's hacking capabilities and software tools used to break into smartphones, computers and other Internet-connected devices.[16] In April, CIA director Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia".[268] Assange accused the CIA of trying to "subvert" his right to freedom of speech.[269] According to former intelligence officials, in the wake of the Vault 7 leaks, the CIA plotted to kidnap Assange from Ecuador's London embassy, and some senior officials discussed his potential assassination. Yahoo! News found "no indication that the most extreme measures targeting Assange were ever approved." Some of its sources stated that they had alerted House and Senate intelligence committees to the plans that Pompeo was suggesting.[270][271][272][17] In October 2021, Assange's lawyers introduced the alleged plot during a hearing of the High Court of Justice in London as it considered the U.S. appeal of a lower court's ruling that Assange could not be extradited to face charges in the U.S.[273][274][275]

On 6 June 2017, Assange tweeted his support for NSA leaker Reality Winner, who had been arrested three days earlier.[276] Winner had been identified in part because a reporter from The Intercept showed a leaked document to the government without removing possibly incriminating evidence about its leaker. WikiLeaks later offered a $10,000 reward for information about the reporter responsible.[277]

On 16 August 2017, US Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher visited Assange and told him that Trump would pardon him on condition that he would agree to say that Russia was not involved in the 2016 Democratic National Committee email leaks.[278][279] At his extradition hearings in 2020, Assange's defense team alleged in court that this offer was made "on instructions from the president". Trump and Rohrabacher subsequently said they had never spoken about the offer and Rohrabacher said he had made the offer on his own initiative.[278][279][280]

In August 2017, in the midst of the Qatar diplomatic crisis, Dubai-based Al Arabiya said Assange had refrained from publishing two cables about Qatar after negotiations between WikiLeaks and Qatar. Assange said Al Arabiya had been publishing "increasingly absurd fabrications" during the dispute.[281] 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."[282]

Ecuador granted Assange citizenship in December 2017.[283]

In February 2018, after Sweden had suspended its investigation, Assange brought two legal actions, arguing that Britain should drop its arrest warrant for him as it was "no longer right or proportionate to pursue him" and the arrest warrant for breaching bail had lost its "purpose and its function". In both cases, Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot ruled that the arrest warrant should remain in place.[284][285]

In March 2018, Assange used social media to criticise Germany's arrest of Catalonian separatist leader Carles Puigdemont. On 28 March 2018, Ecuador responded by cutting Assange's internet connection because his social media posts put at risk Ecuador's relations with European nations.[286] In May 2018, The Guardian reported that over five years Ecuador had spent at least $5 million (£3.7m) to protect Assange, employing a security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and the British police. Ecuador reportedly devised plans to help Assange escape should British police forcibly enter the embassy to seize him. The Guardian reported that by 2014 Assange had compromised the embassy's communications system. WikiLeaks described the allegation as "an anonymous libel aligned with the current UK-US government onslaught against Mr Assange".[287] In July 2018, President Moreno said that he wanted Assange out of the embassy provided that Assange's life was not in danger.[288] By October 2018, Assange's communications were partially restored.[289]

On 16 October 2018, members of Congress from the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote an open letter to President Moreno, which described Assange as a dangerous criminal. It stated that progress between the US and Ecuador in economic cooperation, counter-narcotics assistance, and the return of a USAID mission to Ecuador depended on Assange being handed over to the authorities.[290][291]

In October 2018, Assange sued the government of Ecuador for violating his "fundamental rights and freedoms" by threatening to remove his protection and cut off his access to the outside world, refusing him visits from journalists and human rights organisations and installing signal jammers to prevent phone calls and internet access.[292][293] An Ecuadorian judge ruled against him, saying that requiring Assange to pay for his Internet use and clean up after his cat did not violate his right to asylum.[294]

In November 2018, Pamela Anderson, a close friend and regular visitor of Assange, gave an interview in which she asked the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, to defend Assange.[295] Morrison rejected the request with a response Anderson considered "smutty". Anderson responded 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."[296]

On 21 December 2018, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the UK to let Assange leave the embassy freely. In a statement, the organisation said 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".[297]

In February 2019, the parliament of Geneva passed a motion demanding that the Swiss government extend asylum to Assange.[298] In January 2020, the Catalan Dignity Commission awarded Assange its 2019 Dignity Prize for supporting the Catalan people during the 2017 Catalan independence referendum.[299]

In March 2019, Assange submitted a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asking the Ecuadorian government to "ease the conditions that it had imposed on his residence" at the embassy and to protect him from extradition to the US. It also requested US prosecutors unseal criminal charges that had been filed against him. Assange said the Ecuadorian embassy was trying to end his asylum by spying on him and restricting his visitors. The commission rejected his complaint.[300]

Surveillance of Assange in the embassy

On 10 April 2019, WikiLeaks said it had uncovered an extensive surveillance operation against Assange from within the embassy. 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.[301][302]

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 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 was 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.[303]

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.[304]

Spanish judicial bodies were upset at having their EIO request denied by UKCA and believed the British justice system was concerned by the effect the Spanish case may have on the process to extradite Assange to the US.[304]

In a November 2019 article, Stefania Maurizi said she had access to some of the videos, audios and photos 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. According to Maurizi, microphones had been placed in the women's toilets to capture meetings between Assange and his lawyers and 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 wrote that, based on statements from former employees of UC Global, internal UC Global emails and the type of information collected, she believed the surveillance was conducted on behalf of the US government and could be used in support of the extradition case.[305]

Britain agreed to allow Judge De la Mata to interview Assange via video link on 20 December.[306] According to his lawyer, Assange testified that he was unaware that cameras installed by Undercover Global were also capturing audio and suggested the surveillance likely targeted his legal team.[307]

Imprisonment and extradition proceedings

Arrest in the embassy

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 20 July 2019
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 20 July 2019

On 2 April 2019, Ecuador's president Moreno said that Assange had violated the terms of his asylum, after photos surfaced on the internet linking Moreno to a corruption scandal.[308][309] WikiLeaks said it had acquired none of the published material, and that it merely reported on a corruption investigation against Moreno by Ecuador's legislature.[309] WikiLeaks reported a source within the Ecuadorian government saying that, due to the controversy, an agreement had been reached to expel Assange from the embassy and place him in the custody of UK police.[310][311] According to Assange's father, the revoking of Assange's asylum was connected to an upcoming decision by the International Monetary Fund to grant Ecuador a loan,[312] an assertion also made by critics of Moreno, such as former Ecuadorian foreign minister Guillaume Long.[313][314]

On 11 April 2019 the Ecuadorian government invited the Metropolitan Police into the embassy, and they arrested Assange on the basis of a US extradition warrant.[19] Moreno stated that Ecuador withdrew Assange's asylum after he interfered in Ecuador's domestic affairs, adding that "the patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behaviour of Mr Assange".[315][316][317] British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Theresa May thanked Moreno for his actions.[318] Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the arrest "has got nothing to do with [Australia], it is a matter for the US".[319] United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard said that British authorities had arbitrarily detained Assange and further endangered his life by their actions.[320]

Conviction for breach of bail

On the day of his arrest, Assange was charged with breaching the Bail Act 1976 and was found guilty after a short hearing.[321] Assange's defence said chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot, who had dealt with his case, was biased against him as her husband was directly affected by WikiLeaks' allegations. Judge Michael Snow said it was "unacceptable" to air the claim in front of a "packed press gallery" and that Assange was "a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest" and he had "not come close to establishing reasonable excuse".[322]

Assange was remanded to Belmarsh Prison, and on 1 May 2019 was sentenced to 50 weeks imprisonment.[20] The judge said he would be released after serving half of his sentence, subject to other proceedings and conditional upon committing no further offences.[323] The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said that the verdict contravened "principles of necessity and proportionality" for what it considered a "minor violation".[324][325] Assange appealed his sentence, but dropped his appeal in July.[326]

Espionage indictment in the United States

Main article: Indictment and arrest of Julian Assange

Manning in 2017
Manning in 2017

In 2012 and 2013, US officials indicated that Assange was not named in a sealed indictment.[327][328] On 6 March 2018, a federal grand jury for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a sealed indictment against Assange.[329] In November 2018, US prosecutors accidentally revealed the indictment.[330][331][332][333][334]

In February 2019, Chelsea Manning was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in Virginia in the case.[335] When Manning condemned the secrecy of the hearings and refused to testify, she was jailed for contempt of court on 8 March 2019.[336][337][338][339] On 16 May 2019, Manning refused to testify before a new grand jury investigating Assange, stating that she "believe[d] this grand jury seeks to undermine the integrity of public discourse with the aim of punishing those who expose any serious, ongoing, and systemic abuses of power by this government". She was returned to jail for the 18-month term of the grand jury with financial penalties.[340] In June 2021, Chelsea Manning said her grand jury resistance was not contingent on Assange being the target, and that she was not even sure he was. "I treated this no differently than if it was for a protest or for some other grand jury—if it was a grand jury in general, I would respond the same way. But it did appear that this one was about, specifically, the 2010 disclosures; the media was speculating, but our legal team and ourselves, we never got full confirmation as to whether that was the case."[341]

On 11 April 2019, the day of Assange's arrest in London, the indictment against him was unsealed.[342] He was charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion (i.e., hacking into a government computer), which carries a maximum five-year sentence.[343][344] 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.[141] This allegation had been known since 2011 and was a factor in Manning's trial; the indictment did not reveal any new information about Assange.[141][345]

On 23 May 2019, 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.[346] These charges carried a maximum sentence of 170 years in prison.[347] 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 York Times commented that it and other news organisations obtained the same documents as WikiLeaks also without government authorisation. It said it was not clear how WikiLeaks' publications were legally different from other publications of classified information.[348][349]

Most cases brought under the Espionage Act have been against government employees who accessed sensitive information and leaked it to journalists and others.[350] Prosecuting people for acts related to receiving and publishing information has not previously been tested in court.[348] In 1975, the Justice Department decided after consideration not to charge journalist Seymour Hersh for reporting on US surveillance of the Soviet Union.[350] 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 in 2009.[348][350][relevant?]

The Associated Press reported that the indictment raised concerns about media freedom, as Assange's solicitation and publication of classified information is a routine job journalists perform.[351] Steve 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.[352] Suzanne Nossel of PEN America said it was immaterial if Assange was a journalist or publisher and pointed instead to First Amendment concerns.[353] In a call with reporters, U.S. Attorney Terwilliger said that "Assange is charged for his alleged complicity in illegal acts to obtain or receive voluminous databases of classified information and for agreeing and attempting to obtain classified information through computer hacking. The United States has not charged Assange for passively obtaining or receiving classified information."[354]

While some American journalism institutions and politicians supported Assange's arrest and indictment, several non-government organisations for press freedom condemned it.[355] Mark Warner, vice chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Assange was "a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security".[356] After Assange's arrest and first indictment, the New York Times' Editorial Board wrote that "The case of Mr. Assange, who got his start as a computer hacker, illuminates the conflict of freedom and harm in the new technologies, and could help draw a sharp line between legitimate journalism and dangerous cybercrime." The Editorial Board also warned that "The administration has begun well by charging Mr. Assange with an indisputable crime. But there is always a risk with this administration — one that labels the free press as “the enemy of the people” — that the prosecution of Mr. Assange could become an assault on the First Amendment and whistle-blowers."[357] The Washington Post's Editorial Board wrote that Assange was "not a free-press hero" or a journalist, and that he was "long overdue for personal accountability."[358]

Several jurists, politicians, associations, academics and campaigners viewed the arrest of Assange as an attack on freedom of the press and international law.[359][360][361] Reporters Without Borders said Assange's arrest would "set a dangerous precedent for journalists, whistle-blowers, and other journalistic sources that the US may wish to pursue in the future".[362] 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".[363] United Nations human rights expert Agnes Callamard said the indictment exposed him to the risk of serious human rights violations.[320] Ben Wizner from the American Civil Liberties Union said that prosecuting Assange "for violating US secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for US journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest".[364][365]

Imprisonment in the UK

Since his arrest on 11 April 2019, Assange has been incarcerated in HM Prison Belmarsh in London.[20]

After examining Assange on 9 May 2019, Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, concluded that "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."[366][367] The British government said it disagreed with some of his observations.[368] 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 said the United States, UK, Sweden and Ecuador were trying to make an example of Assange. He added that Assange's lawyers made over 30 offers to arrange for Assange to visit Sweden in exchange for a guarantee that he would not be extradited to the U.S and described such diplomatic assurances as routine international practice. He also accused journalists of "spreading abusive and deliberately distorted narratives".[369] Shortly after Melzer's visit, Assange was transferred to the prison's health care unit.[370]

On 13 September 2019, 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.[371] She said when his sentence came to an end, his status would change from a serving prisoner to a person facing extradition.[371]

On 1 November 2019, Melzer said that Assange's health had continued to deteriorate and his life was now at risk.[372][370] He said that the UK government had not acted on the issue.[372][370]

On 22 November, an open letter to the UK Home Secretary and Shadow Home Secretary signed by a group of medical practitioners named Doctors for Assange said Assange's health was declining to such an extent that he could die in prison.[373] Subsequent attempts by the group, made to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland,[374][375] and to Marise Payne, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, also yielded no result.[376]

On 30 December 2019, Melzer accused the UK government of torturing Assange. He said Assange's "continued exposure to severe mental and emotional suffering... clearly amounts to psychological torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."[377][378]

On 17 February 2020, the medical journal The Lancet published an open letter from Doctors for Assange[379] in which they said Assange was in a "dire state of health due to the effects of prolonged psychological torture in both the Ecuadorian embassy and Belmarsh prison" which could lead to his death and that his "politically motivated medical neglect... sets a dangerous precedent".[380][381][382] On the same day, Reporters Without Borders posted a separate petition which accused the Trump administration of acting in "retaliation for (Assange's) facilitating major revelations in the international media about the way the United States conducted its wars". The petition said, Assange's publications "were clearly in the public interest and not espionage".[383][384] Australian MPs Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen visited Assange and pressed the UK and Australian governments to intervene to stop his being extradited.[385][386]

On 25 March 2020, Assange was denied bail after Judge Baraitser rejected his lawyers' argument that his imprisonment would put him at high risk of contracting COVID-19.[387] She said Assange's past conduct showed how far he was willing to go to avoid extradition.[387] In November 2021, his father told a French interview program that Assange had received a non-mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in Belmarsh Prison.[388]

On 25 June 2020, Doctors for Assange published another letter in The Lancet, "reiterating their demand to end the torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange",[389] in which they state their "professional and ethical duty to speak out against, report, and stop torture".[390][391]

In September 2020, an open letter in support of Assange was sent to Boris Johnson with the signatures of two current heads of state and approximately 160 other politicians.[392] The following month, U.S. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, and Thomas Massie, a Republican, introduced a resolution opposing the extradition of Assange.[393] In December 2020, German human rights commissioner Bärbel Kofler cautioned the UK about the need to consider Assange's physical and mental health before deciding whether to extradite him.[394]

Hearings on extradition to the US

On 2 May 2019, the first hearing was held in London into the U.S. request for Assange's extradition. When asked by Judge Snow whether he consented to 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".[395][396] On 13 June, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he had signed the extradition order.[397]

Towards the end of 2019, Judge Emma Arbuthnot, who had presided at several of the extradition hearings,[398][399] stepped aside because of a "perception of bias".[400] Vanessa Baraitser was appointed as the presiding judge.[400]

On 21 October 2019, Assange appeared for a case management hearing at the court. When Judge Baraitser 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.[401]

In February 2020, the court heard legal arguments.[402] Assange's lawyers contended that he had been charged with political offences and therefore could not be extradited.[403] The hearings were delayed for months due to requests for extra time from the prosecution and the defence and due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[404][405] In March, the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute, IBAHRI, condemned the mistreatment of Assange in the extradition trial.[406]

Assange appeared in court on 7 September 2020, facing a new indictment with 18 counts:

The US Department of Justice stated that the new indictment "broaden[s] the scope of... alleged computer intrusions", alleging that Assange "communicated directly with a leader of the hacking group LulzSec [,]... provided a list of targets for LulzSec to hack" and "[conspired] with Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password hash".[407] Judge Baraitser denied motions by Assange's barristers to dismiss the new charges or to adjourn to better respond.[402]

Some witnesses who testified in September, such as Daniel Ellsberg, did so remotely via video link due to COVID-19 restrictions. Technical problems caused extensive delays.[408] Amnesty International, PEN Norway, and eight members of the European Parliament had their access to the livestream revoked. Baraitser responded that the initial invitations had been sent in error.[408][409] Torture victim Khaled el-Masri, who was originally requested as a defence witness, had his testimony reduced to a written statement.[410] Other witnesses testified that the conditions of imprisonment, which would be likely to worsen upon extradition to the U.S., placed Assange at a high risk of depression and suicide which was exacerbated by his Asperger syndrome.[411] During the court proceedings the defence drew attention to a prison service report stating that a hidden razor blade had been found by a prison officer during a search of Assange's cell.[412] During the proceedings it was also revealed that Assange had contacted the Samaritans phone service on numerous occasions.[413]

Patrick Eller, a former forensics examiner with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, testified that Assange did not crack and could not have cracked the password mentioned in the U.S. indictment, as Chelsea Manning had intentionally sent only a portion of the password's hash. Moreover, Eller stated that password cracking was a common topic of discussion among other soldiers stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer, suggesting that Manning's message was unrelated to the classified documents which were already in her possession.[414] Testimony on 30 September revealed new allegations surrounding the surveillance of the Ecuadorian embassy by UC Global. A former UC Global employee, who spoke anonymously, fearing reprisals, stated that the firm undertook "an increasingly sophisticated operation" after it was put into contact with the Trump administration by Sheldon Adelson. According to the employee, intelligence agents discussed plans to break into the embassy to kidnap or poison Assange and attempted to obtain the DNA of a baby who was believed to be Assange's child.[415]

To coincide with the end of the hearing, Progressive International convened a virtual event called the Belmarsh Tribunal, modelled after the Russell Tribunal, to scrutinise what it calls "the crimes that have been revealed by Assange, and the crimes that have been committed against him, in turn".[416]

Hearings, including a statement in support of the defence by Noam Chomsky, concluded on 1 October 2020.[417]

On 4 January 2021, Judge Baraitser ruled that Assange could not be extradited to the United States, citing concerns about his mental health and the risk of suicide in a US prison.[418][419] She sided with the US on every other point, including whether the charges constituted political offences and whether he was entitled to freedom of speech protections.[420]

Appeal and other developments

On 6 January 2021, Assange was denied bail on the grounds that he was a flight risk, pending an appeal by the United States.[24] The US prosecutors appealed against the denial of extradition on 15 January.[421]

Following the decision by Judge Baraitser that it would be "oppressive to extradite [Assange] to the United States," in July 2021 the Biden administration assured the Crown Prosecution Services that "Mr Assange will not be subject to SAMs or imprisoned at ADX (unless he were to do something subsequent to the offering of these assurances that meets the tests for the imposition of SAMs or designation to ADX)". The United States also assured that it "will consent to Mr Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any custodial sentence imposed on him."[422] An Amnesty International expert on national security and human rights in Europe said, "Those are not assurances at all. It's not that difficult to look at those assurances and say: these are inherently unreliable, it promises to do something and then reserves the right to break the promise".[423]

In June 2021 Icelandic newspaper Stundin published details of an interview with Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, the witness identified as "Teenager" in the U.S. Justice Department's case against Assange. In the interview Thordarson, who had received a promise of immunity from prosecution in return for co-operating with the FBI, stated he had fabricated allegations used in the U.S. indictment.[430]

In June 2021, Assange's half brother Gabriel Shipton and father John Shipton left Australia to conduct a month-long 17 city tour of the United States to generate awareness and support for Assange and press freedom. In a Saint Paul, Minnesota event, sponsored by Women Against Military Madness, the Shiptons asked supporters to appeal to members of Congress to weigh in with the Justice Department to reconsider its prosecution.[431] Ecuador revoked Assange's citizenship in July 2021.[283]

In August 2021 in the High Court, Lord Justice Holroyde decided that Judge Baraitser may have given too much weight to what Holroyde called "a misleading report" by an expert witness for the defence, psychiatrist Prof Michael Kopelman, and granted permission for the contested risk of suicide to be raised on the appeal.[432]

In October 2021, the High Court held a two-day appeal hearing presided over by Ian Burnett, Baron Burnett of Maldon, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and Lord Justice Holroyde.[433][434] In opening the U.S. as appellant argued that Assange's health issues were less severe than claimed during the initial extradition hearing and that his depression was moderate rather than severe. They also drew attention to binding assurances given by the U.S. concerning his proposed treatment in custody. In answer Assange's defence drew attention to a Yahoo! News report that the CIA had plotted to poison, abduct or assassinate Assange. Edward Fitzgerald QC argued: "Given the revelations of surveillance in the embassy and plots to kill [Assange]," "there are great grounds for fearing what will be done to him" if extradited to the U.S. He urged the court "not to trust [the] assurances" of the "same government" alleged to have plotted Assange's killing.[435] According to his partner Stella Moris, Assange suffered a mini-stroke on 27 October while sitting through the court hearing and was subsequently given anti-stroke medication.[440]

On 10 December 2021, the High Court ruled in favour of the United States. The Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justice Holroyde ruled that, in line with previous judgements, when the US administration gives a promise of fair and humane treatment its word should not be doubted.[441] The case was remitted to Westminster Magistrates' Court with the direction that it be sent to the Home Secretary Priti Patel for the final decision on whether to extradite Assange.[442][443] On 24 January 2022 Assange was granted permission to petition the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom for an appeal hearing,[444] but in March the court denied permission for an appeal, saying that Assange had not raised an arguable point of law.[26]

In an auction of non-fungible tokens on 9 February 2022 organised by Pak collaborating with Assange, an NFT artwork called "Clock" by him was bought by a decentralized autonomous organization, ("DAO") of over 10,000 supporters called AssangeDAO and raised 16,593 of the cryptocurrency ether, worth about $52.8m at the time, for Assange's legal defence. "Clock" updates each day to show how long Assange has been imprisoned.[445]

On 20 April 2022, Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring of the Westminster Magistrates Court formally approved the extradition of Assange to the US and referred the decision to the Home Secretary Priti Patel.[446] On 17 June 2022, Patel approved the extradition.[447]

The incoming Australian Labor government of Anthony Albanese has indicated that it would oppose the continued prosecution of Assange but would pursue quiet diplomacy to achieve this aim.[448]

On 1 July 2022, Assange lodged an appeal against the extradition in the High Court.[449] On 22 August 2022, Assange's legal team lodged a Perfected Grounds of Appeal before the High Court challenging District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision of 4 January 2021 with new evidence.[450]

Writings, talk show, and opinions

In 2012 Assange hosted World Tomorrow show, broadcast by Russian network RT.[451] He has written a few short pieces, including "State and terrorist conspiracies" (2006),[452] "Conspiracy as governance" (2006),[453] "The hidden curse of Thomas Paine" (2008),[454] "What's new about WikiLeaks?" (2011),[455] and the foreword to Cypherpunks (2012).[456] Cypherpunks is primarily a transcript of World Tomorrow episode eight, a 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".[456] He also contributed research to Suelette Dreyfus's Underground (1997),[47] and received a co-writer credit for the Calle 13 song "Multi Viral" (2013). In 2010, Assange said he was a libertarian and that "WikiLeaks is designed to make capitalism more free and ethical".[457]

In 2010, Assange received a deal for his autobiography worth at least US$1.3 million.[458][459][460] In 2011, Canongate Books published Julian Assange, The Unauthorised Autobiography.[461] Assange immediately disavowed it, stating, "I am not 'the writer' of this book. I own the copyright of the manuscript, which was written by Andrew O'Hagan." Assange accused Canongate of breaching their contract by publishing, against his wishes, a draft that Assange considered "a work in progress" and "entirely uncorrected or fact-checked by me."[462] In 2014, O'Hagan wrote about his experience as Assange's ghostwriter. "The story of his life mortified him and sent him scurrying for excuses," O'Hagan recalled. "He didn't want to do the book. He hadn't from the beginning."[463] Colin Robinson, co-publisher of Assange's 2012 book Cypherpunks, criticised O'Hagan for largely ignoring the bigger issues about which Assange had been warning, and noted that O'Hagan's piece "is no part of an organised dirty tricks campaign. But by focusing as it does on Assange's character defects, it ends up serving much the same purpose."[464]

Assange's book When Google Met WikiLeaks was published by OR Books in 2014.[465] It 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.[466][467][468]

In 2011, an article in Private Eye by its editor, Ian Hislop, recounted a rambling phone call he had received from Assange, who was especially angry about Private Eye′s report that Israel Shamir, an Assange associate in Russia, was a Holocaust denier.[469][470][471] Assange suggested, Hislop wrote, "that British journalists, including the editor of The Guardian, were engaged in a Jewish-led conspiracy to smear his organization." Assange subsequently responded that Hislop had "distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase." He added, "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."[469]

Personal life

Stella Moris, 5 June 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland
Stella Moris, 5 June 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland
Stella Moris with supporters leaving the High Court in January 2022
Stella Moris with supporters leaving the High Court in January 2022

While still a teenager, Assange married a woman, also in her teens, named Teresa, and in 1989 they had a son named Daniel.[36][46][472] The couple separated and disputed custody of Daniel until 1999.[37] According to Assange's mother, his brown hair turned white during the time of the custody dispute.[30][37]

Daniel Domscheit-Berg said in his 2011 memoir Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website that Assange said he had fathered several children. In an email in January 2007, Assange mentioned having a daughter.[36] In 2015, in an open letter to French President Hollande, Assange revealed he had another child, a son.[473][474] He said that his youngest child was French, as was the child's mother.[139][474] 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.[139]

In 2015, Assange began a relationship with Stella Moris, his South African-born lawyer.[475] They became engaged in 2017 and had two sons, born in 2017 and 2019.[476] Moris revealed their relationship in 2020 because she feared for Assange's life.[477][478][479][480] On 7 November 2021, the couple said they were preparing legal action against Deputy UK Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Jenny Louis, governor of Belmarsh Prison. Assange and Moris accused Raab and Louis of denying their and their two children's human rights by blocking and delaying their marriage.[481] On 11 November, the prison service said it had granted permission for the couple to marry in Belmarsh Prison,[482] and on 23 March 2022 the couple married.[483]


See also: § Honours and awards, and Reception of WikiLeaks

The travelling art installation Anything to Say? by Davide Dormino featuring bronze sculptures of Assange, Snowden and Manning standing on chairs in Berlin on May Day 2015.[484]
The travelling art installation Anything to Say? by Davide Dormino featuring bronze sculptures of Assange, Snowden and Manning standing on chairs in Berlin on May Day 2015.[484]

Views on Assange have been given by a number of public figures, including journalists, well-known whistleblowers, activists and world leaders. In July 2010, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said that "Assange has shown much better judgment with respect to what he has revealed than the people who kept those items secret inside the government."[485] In October 2010, Ellsberg flew to London to give Assange his support.[486] In November 2010, an individual from the office of Dmitry Medvedev, the President of Russia, suggested that Assange should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.[487][488] In December 2010, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then President of Brazil, said "They have arrested him and I don't hear so much as a single protest for freedom of expression". Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Russia, asked at a press conference "Why is Mr Assange in prison? Is this democracy?"[489] In the same month, Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia, described his activities as "illegal",[490] but the Australian Federal Police said he had not broken Australian law.[491] Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States, was asked whether he saw Assange as closer to a high-tech terrorist than to whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Biden responded that he "would argue it is closer to being a high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers".[492] In November 2011, Vaughan Smith, founder of the Frontline Club, supported Assange[493] and in July 2012 offered his residence in Norfolk for Assange to continue WikiLeaks' operations whilst in the UK.[494] In April 2012, interviewed on Assange's television show World Tomorrow, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa praised WikiLeaks and told his host "Cheer up! Cheer up! Welcome to the club of the persecuted!"[495] In August 2012, historian and journalist Tariq Ali and former ambassador and author Craig Murray spoke in support of Assange outside the Ecuadorian embassy.[496] In April 2013, filmmaker Oliver Stone stated that "Julian Assange did much for free speech and is now being victimised by the abusers of that concept."[497] In November 2014, Spanish Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias also gave his support to Assange.[498] In July 2015, British Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn opposed Assange's extradition to the US,[499] and as Labour Party leader in April 2019 said the British government should oppose Assange's extradition to the US "for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan".[500]

In July 2016, artist and activist Ai Weiwei, musicians Patti Smith, Brian Eno and PJ Harvey, scholars Noam Chomsky and Yanis Varoufakis, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and filmmaker Ken Loach were amongst those attending an event in support of Assange at the embassy.[501] That same month, the documentary filmmaker and long-time supporter Michael Moore also visited Assange in the embassy.[502] In December 2019, Australian journalist Mary Kostakidis said, "I became fascinated at this young, idealistic Australian, very tech-savvy, who developed a way for whistleblowers to upload data anonymously" and that she would be giving "100 per cent of my attention and resources" to his defence.[503] In January 2021, Australian journalist John Pilger stated that, were Assange to be extradited, "no journalist who challenges power will be safe".[504][169]

American politicians Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin each either referred to Assange as "a high-tech terrorist" or suggested that through publishing US diplomatic traffic he was engaged in terrorism.[505][506][507] Other American and Canadian politicians and media personalities, including Tom Flanagan,[508][509] Bob Beckel,[510] Mike Huckabee[511] and Michael Grunwald,[512] called for his assassination or execution, though Grunwald later apologised for this, saying, "It was a dumb tweet. I'm sorry. I deserve the backlash."[513]

Honours and awards




Title Year
Collateral Murder 2010
World Tomorrow 2012 (host)
Mediastan 2013
The Engineer 2013[537]
As himself

See also

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Bradley Manning at the time of the leak.


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Further reading