After claiming political asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy seven years ago, co-founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, was arrested on Thursday. He faces numerous charges from Britain, the US, and Sweden, as well as extradition orders. So, what next?
Relationship with Ecuador on ice
Ecuadorian President, Lenín Moreno, stated that Assange had violated the terms of his asylum after he was accused of leaking information about Moreno’s personal life.
What are the charges against Assange?
Assange was charged with failing to surrender to the court after losing the appeal against a transfer to Sweden on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in 2012. Since then, he has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after claiming political asylum.
The international legal protection afforded to diplomatic premises meant that Assange could not be arrested, nor could police enter the embassy without Ecuador’s consent. On April 11, police we given to consent to enter the embassy and arrest Assange for failing to surrender to the court. The maximum jail term for this charge is 12 months.
The US also charged Assange on April 11 with a conspiracy to assist whistleblower and US army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, in leaking confidential documents that showed the US military murdering Iraqi civilians, including children and Reuters staff. These documents were published by WikiLeaks, and Manning was the only person to serve prison time in relation to the incident.
The US wishes to extradite Assange to face these charges before a court in the US.
Sweden issued the EAW in 2010 as a request to transfer Assange to Sweden, after he was charged with sexual assault. Assange denies these allegations.
He was questioned in 2016 in relation to the allegations via a video link from the Ecuadorian embassy, however, in 2017 Swedish authorities closed the investigation.
Despite this, multiple news sources believe that Sweden’s Prosecution Authority could renew their extradition request, as the statute of limitations does not expire until 2020.
Britain’s extradition obligations
While Britain is still an EU member state they are under an obligation to implement the EAW, however, Britain is able to decide whether to prioritise Sweden’s EAW or the US extradition order.
The 2003 extradition treaty between the UK and the US allows the UK to extradite someone to the US based on allegations and an arrest warrant, without necessarily providing evidence.
The treaty allows for extradition if the offence is non-political, a criminal offence in both the UK and the US, and carries a prison sentence of at least 12 months. The US extradition request is for the charge of computer fraud, as treason and espionage are considered political offences.
Assange could apply to the European Court of Human Rights as the extradition request did involve a human rights violation, however, this could take months or years. And, with Brexit looming over the horizon, this could be made all the more difficult if the UK is no longer a member of the EU.
If Assange serves prison time for not surrendering to the court, the UK will most likely deport him to Australia.
Given that Assange is an Australian citizen, Australia does have an obligation to provide consular protection to Assange. Australian PM, Scott Morrison, and Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, are not commenting on what the extent of support for Assange would be.
Australia could refuse to extradite Assange to the US based on the fact that he is an Australian citizen, and pressure from human rights activists could place great weight on this decision.