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After 7 Years Inside Ecuador's Embassy In London, Julian Assange Was Arrested


After seven years inside Ecuador's embassy in London, Julian Assange was thrown out today.


British police took him into custody, paving the way for his extradition to the U.S. The Justice Department has charged him with conspiracy related to the leak of national security information. While some have hailed Assange for exposing government secrets, others say he has put U.S. missions and staff at grave risk. We'll hear more about that in a few minutes.

CHANG: But first, let's understand why Assange took refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in the first place. We're joined now from London by NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Welcome.


CHANG: So it has been a pretty dramatic day in London for Assange. Can you just briefly describe what has happened today?

QUIST-ARCTON: At about 10 o'clock local time, the British police arrived at the Ecuador embassy, where you say he's been since 2012. And invited in by the Ecuadorian government, they half-led, half-carried Julian Assange who's looking gaunt, frail, with a huge white beard out of the embassy. He was shouting, this is unlawful. This is unlawful. And they bundled him into a waiting van.

CHANG: Can we just rewind the clock seven years? I mean, what was the co-founder of WikiLeaks doing taking up refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in the first place?

QUIST-ARCTON: Julian Assange was accused of rape and molestation in Sweden, which was seeking his extradition. So in 2012, he was in court in Britain, and he was out on bail. Now, he jumped bail, so to speak, and he literally ducked into the Ecuador Embassy. And he has been there ever since.

CHANG: So he has spent seven years inside an embassy. I mean, and his movements have been restricted for the past several years. How did he cope?

QUIST-ARCTON: Initially, pretty well. I mean, we used to see Julian Assange on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy speaking - almost holding court. Then, he was very confident. He was confident because the then-president of Ecuador was a friend of his. He made one of these pronouncements from the embassy balcony back in 2012. Have a listen.


JULIAN ASSANGE: Six months ago, 185 days ago, I entered this building. It has become my home, my office and my refuge. Thanks to the principled stance of the Ecuadorian government and the support of its people, I am safe in this embassy to speak to you.

CHANG: Yeah, it sounds like he felt very safe at the time. When did that start to change?

QUIST-ARCTON: Sweden eventually dropped the sexual violence charges against Assange. But last year, we learned that the U.S. administration was probably preparing criminal charges against Assange. Now, this was when his name was accidentally leaked in a document filed in an unrelated case.

Also the Ecuadorian administration change and the new president, Lenin Moreno, is not at all sympathetic to Assange, who he says has not only violated the terms of his political asylum, but that he has been leaking with WikiLeaks things about the president himself and about Ecuador, which is hosting him - so asylum revoked...


QUIST-ARCTON: ...British police in.

CHANG: Where does all of this leave Julian Assange now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Right now, in jail, remanded in custody. He will face court over the jumping-bail charges in the British court but also possible extradition to the US. Jennifer Robinson, who is one of Assange's lawyers, says heck no. This must not happen.


JENNIFER ROBINSON: This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists in Europe and elsewhere around the world. This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States.

QUIST-ARCTON: So she says she visited Julian Assange in jail today, and he thanks all his supporters. And, you know, he has a lot of supporters. And then you have those who see Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as a menace.

CHANG: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in London. Thank you, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.