A month shy of his fifth year of refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge, west London WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stepped onto the balcony to hail “an important victory”. Clenching his fists he stated in measured tones to the media scrum below him: “Today is an important victory for me and the UN human rights system, but by no means erases seven years of detention without charge… while my children grew up. That is not something I can forgive or forget,”
“My legal staff have contacted the UK authorities and we hope to engage in a dialogue about what will be the best way forward,” he added, saying he was also “happy to engage” with the US.
Scotland Yard had confirmed Assange still risked arrest if he stepped out the Ecuadorean Embassy after Swedish prosecutors revoked an arrest warrant for the transparency activist over rape allegations. The Met who claimed to have spent £12m in round-the-clock security to prevent the fugitive’s escape stated Assange was still wanted for jumping bail and would execute an arrest warrant if he ventures out of the confines of the embassy.
A spokesperson said in a statement: “Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on the 29 June 2012. The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy.
“Whilst Mr Assange was wanted on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) for an extremely serious offence, the MPS response reflected the serious nature of that crime. Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence. The MPS will not comment further on the operational plan.
“The priority for the MPS must continue to be arresting those who are currently wanted in the Capital in connection with serious violent or sexual offences for the protection of Londoners.”
In an earlier dramatic move Swedish prosecutors wound up a 7-year rape inquiry into WikiLeaks’ founder Assange who has sought refuge at Ecuador’s Knightsbridge Embassy since 2012. Marianne Ny, Sweden’s director of public prosecution explaining the U-turn at a press briefing on Friday 19 May said she had decided to discontinue the probe into rape allegations because by remaining in the embassy in London Mr Assange had evaded the exercise of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) that would have seen him extradited to Sweden.
She said that under Swedish law a criminal investigation needed to be conducted “as quickly as possible”.
She added: “If he were to return to Sweden before the statute of limitation on this case expires in August 2020, the preliminary investigation could be resumed.”
She said it was “regrettable we have not been able to carry out the investigation”, but insisted: “We are not making any pronouncement about guilt.”
Assange, 45, who denies the charges has since become a worldwide cause celebre drawing crowds of supporters with impromptu speeches from the balcony of the diplomatic mission and celebrities like Vivienne Westwood and Pamela Anderson calling for his release. He is also said to have become frail and unwell due to his cramped living conditions and lack of sunlight from almost five years of restricted movement.
He had all along feared extradition to the United States after WikiLeaks published tranches of classified information about US intelligence agencies. Swedish prosecutors’ decision to drop an investigation into an allegation of rape against Julian Assange on Friday is a “total victory”, his lawyer, Per Samuelson, said.
“The preliminary investigation has been dropped and the detention order has been withdrawn, and from Sweden’s point of view this is now over,” Samuelson told Reuters.
Assange in his first reaction to the news from Sweden vowed he would not forgive or forget those behind the protracted Swedish rape investigation that he said had prevented him seeing his children as they grew up.
“Detained for 7 years without charge by while my children grew up and my name was slandered,” he declared on Twitter. “I do not forgive or forget.”
JULIAN ASSANGE TIMELINE—KEY DATES
June 7, 2010 – The U.S. military says Army Specialist Bradley Manning, who was deployed to Baghdad, has been arrested in connection with the release of a classified video showing a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff, in the Iraqi capital. Accused of leaking government files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and of aiding the enemy – identified as al Qaeda – Manning faces a court-martial in September 2012.
July 25 – More than 91,000 documents, most of them secret U.S. military reports about the war in Afghanistan, are released by WikiLeaks.org. In October, WikiLeaks releases another 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.
Nov. 18 – 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.
Nov. 28 – WikiLeaks releases thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables that include candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of security threats.
Dec. 7 – 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 pounds, is eventually granted on 16 December.
Aug. 25, 2011 – WikiLeaks releases thousands of previously unpublished U.S. diplomatic cables from its cache of more than 250,000 State Department reports.
Oct. 24 – Assange says WikiLeaks will have to stop publishing secret cables and devote itself to fund-raising.
Nov. 2 – 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 crimes. Assange appeals in June, but it is rejected.
June 19, 2012 – Assange takes refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London and asks for political asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden. Police say the next day he faces arrest for breaking the conditions of his bail.
Aug. 16 – Ecuador grants Assange political asylum.
Nov. 20, 2014 – A Swedish appeals court upholds a lower court’s rejection of an appeal by Assange to revoke the detention order, but called on prosecutors to make more effort to question him.
March 13, 2015 – After years of insisting Assange must go to Stockholm for questioning, Swedish prosecutors said they want to interview him at Ecuador’s London embassy.
May 11 – The Swedish Supreme Court also upholds the decision to reject Assange’s appeal to revoke the detention order.
Aug. 13 – Swedish prosecutors drop investigations into the allegations of sexual assault against Assange because they had run out of time to bring charges but continue with investigations over the rape allegation.
Sept. 16, 2016 – A Swedish appeals court turns down another request by Assange to review the detention order.
Nov. 14-15 – Assange is interviewed at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. A Swedish prosecutor posed the questions through an Ecuadorian prosecutor.
Jan. 5, 2017 – Swedish prosecutors say they have received a transcript of the November questioning.
March 17 – Federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia, have expanded a long-running grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.
April 2 – Lenin Moreno wins Ecuador’s presidential election. His conservative opponent had vowed to remove Assange from the embassy.
April 13 – CIA Director Mike Pompeo calls WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service”, using his first public speech as spy agency chief to denounce leakers who have plagued U.S. intelligence.
May 3 – Assange’s lawyer again requests a Swedish court to rescind the detention order.
May 19 – Swedish prosecutors discontinue their investigation into Assange over the rape allegation, saying there were no further avenues to pursue to take the investigation forward. London police say he will still be arrested if he leaves the embassy building.
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