WikiLeaks' Assange Remains in Embassy After Rape Case Droppedby and
Assange calls Swedish decision an ‘important victory’
Hacker says he must determine if U.S., U.K. will arrest him
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hailed a Swedish decision to drop a rape probe against him, but said he won’t leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has sought refuge for the past five years as long as he remains a target in the U.S. and U.K.
Assange, appearing on a balcony at the embassy, said British police continued to seek his arrest for jumping bail in the Swedish probe, and American authorities are targeting him for extradition because of his organization’s leaks of classified documents.
“While today was an important victory and an important vindication, the war is far from over,” Assange, 45, told the crowd. “The war, the proper war, is just beginning.”
Assange and WikiLeaks have become famous over the past decade for disclosing confidential documents about the U.S. government and politics. Last year, WikiLeaks injected itself into the middle of the U.S. presidential race by publishing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Assange made the appearance Friday after Swedish prosecutors dropped the seven-year-old rape case, saying that his steps to evade questioning have made it impossible to pursue the probe.
“It is unfortunate that we haven’t been able to conduct this investigation the way we would have wanted,” Swedish Prosecutor Marianne Ny said at a press conference in Stockholm earlier Friday. “We have used the means at our disposal to advance the investigation with satisfactory quality and we have to face the fact that this is where we stand.”
Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012, after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avoid extradition over the allegations stemming from a 2010 trip to Sweden. He has refused to return to the Scandinavian country, citing risks he will be extradited to the U.S.
“Detained for 7 years without charge while my children grew up and my name was slandered,” Assange said on his Twitter account. “I do not forgive or forget.”
London’s Metropolitan Police said the prosecutor’s decision left Assange wanted for a “much less serious offense” and the police “will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense.”
Where Assange will go if he leaves the embassy is another question. He will likely be arrested by London police for jumping bail -- which carries a sentence of up to a year -- but his lawyers around the globe are already planning his next step.
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Guillaume Long, said that the U.K. should grant “safe passage” to Assange. “We fear it’s not just about the charges in Sweden, but something more, a case of political persecution,” Long said.
Juan Branco, a lawyer for Assange and WikiLeaks in Paris, called on new French President Emmanuel Macron to offer a safe haven.
The Australian was the world’s best-known activist hacker in 2012 when he walked into Ecuador’s embassy applying for humanitarian asylum rather than face questioning in Sweden over accusations of rape and sexual molestation.
He said American officials made up the case in an attempt to have him extradited. The U.S. opened a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks after the organization published hundreds of thousands of leaked State Department cables in 2010.
Although he has not been formally charged, Assange has often implied —- without much hard evidence -- that the U.S. would try to assassinate him. The end of the Swedish case would pave for the way for the U.S. to seek extradition.
“If there is no longer a request from Sweden, then yes, technically it would be easier,” said Thomas Garner, an extradition lawyer in London.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said that the Assange case is an operational matter for police.
WikiLeaks played a central role in the 2016 presidential race when it published emails stolen through hacking the Democratic National Committee and later from John Podesta, chairman of Clinton’s campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russia was behind the hacking in an effort to interfere with the U.S. political process, damage Clinton’s campaign and ultimately help Republican Donald Trump win the White House.
In April, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said Assange was the leader of a hostile force that threatens the U.S.
“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is -- a non-state hostile intelligence service” often aided by nations such as Russia, Pompeo said April 13 in his first public speech after becoming head of the agency. “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service.”
The group has encouraged followers to pursue jobs at the CIA in order to pilfer intelligence, Pompeo told the audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He denounced Assange, who calls himself a champion of transparency in government, as a “narcissist” and a “fraud -- a coward hiding behind a screen.”
Russia’s role remains the subject of multiple investigations by congressional intelligence committees and the FBI, which has said it’s looking into whether any associates of Trump had contact or colluded with Russian government operatives.
Assange has denied that he was given the leaked documents by Russia, although he has refused to say where he got them.