A judge branded Julian Assange a “narcissist” as he was found guilty of breaching his bail conditions – hours after he was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London following seven years of refuge.
The WikiLeaks founder is facing extradition to the US on charges of conspiring to break into a classified government computer, where he could face a maximum jail sentence of five years.
Assange was detained by police after the Ecuadorian government withdrew his asylum – accusing the self-proclaimed journalist of interfering in international affairs and being discourteous to embassy staff.
The 47-year-old shouted and gesticulated as he was carried away in handcuffs by seven men and put into a waiting van on Thursday morning.
He later appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court where he was found guilty of breaching his bail conditions, meaning he also faces a jail term of up to 12 months in the UK when he is sentenced later at crown court.
During the hearing, Assange claimed he could not expect a fair trial in British courts as the UK’s purpose was to “secure his delivery” to the US.
Judge Michael Snow said Assange’s defence was laughable – and described his behaviour as “that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests”.
The activist’s long, grey hair was pulled tightly back into a ponytail during the hearing, with Assange looking much older than his 47 years.
At one point, he saluted the public gallery and gave a thumbs up to a supporter who was wearing a hi-vis jacket.
Assange has now been remanded in custody and will next appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 2 May by prison video-link in relation to the extradition.
Outside court, Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said: “Since 2010, we’ve warned that Julian Assange would face extradition to the US for his publishing activities. Unfortunately, today we have been proved right.”
Crowds of supporters gathered outside court – chanting “no extradition” – and there were minor scuffles as protesters sat down on the road.
In other developments, Swedish prosecutors say that a woman who has accused Assange of rape has asked for the investigation to be reopened.
The US has accused Assange of assisting Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst, in breaking a password that helped her to infiltrate Pentagon computers.
Assange initially hit headlines after WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables in collaboration with mainstream media organisations including The Guardian and The New York Times.
Thursday’s developments have been welcomed by UK government ministers – with Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeting that “no one is above the law”.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said Britain had not lobbied for his asylum to be revoked.
Mr Hunt told Sky News: “Julian Assange is no hero. He’s hidden from the truth for years and years, and it is right that his future should be decided in the British judicial system.”
Mr Javid told the Commons that the “first action taken” after his arrest was a medical check-up.
WikiLeaks has accused Ecuador of “violating international law” by terminating its founder’s political asylum in their London embassy.
Russia has also accused the Metropolitan Police of adopting a heavy-handed approach while arresting Assange, and said the treatment he received gave “the full impression of an open and rude disregard for the human dignity of the arrested”.
Assange, who is originally from Australia, entered the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012 to request political asylum. He had exhausted all of his legal options as he battled to avoid extradition from the UK to Sweden.
He then refused to leave the building, and claimed he would be extradited to the US for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he did so.
The Ecuadorian government were initially sympathetic to Assange’s cause, but a regime change in 2017 saw the country adopt a less supportive approach.
Edward Snowden, a former security contractor who leaked classified information about US surveillance programmes via WikiLeaks, tweeted: “Images of Ecuador’s ambassador inviting the UK’s secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of – like it or not – award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books.
“Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.”
Snowden’s remarks were echoed by Assange’s lawyer, who added: “This sets a dangerous precedent for all journalist and media organisations in Europe and around the world – this precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the US for having published truthful information about the US.”
The lawyer said Assange thanked his supporters and had said: “I told you so.”
Europe minister Sir Alan Duncan told Sky News: “Everybody wants to bring this to an end.
“Anyone who’s been holed up in a room for seven years is really going to suffer, mentally and physically, so just on a human level it was important that this was brought to an end.”
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno attacked the “discourteous and aggressive” behaviour of Mr Assange on Twitter, but nonetheless said that he had asked UK officials to confirm in writing that the WikiLeaks founder would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.
Another member of Assange’s legal team, Barry J Pollack, said it was “bitterly disappointing” that a country would allow someone to whom it has extended asylum to be arrested in its embassy.
He added: “First and foremost, we hope that the UK will now give Mr Assange access to proper healthcare, which he has been denied for seven years.
“Once his healthcare needs have been addressed, the UK courts will need to resolve what appears to be an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information.”
Source: SKY NEWS