Julian Assange, now with a beard, after being arrested in London (Getty Images)

What is going on with all that Julian Assange stuff?

Cheat sheet: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has finally been forced out of his cupboard in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. But why now? And what is he actually facing charges on? Alex Braae has a cheat sheet for you.

What’s all this then?

Overnight, a bearded and haunted looking Julian Assange was dragged (yes, literally) from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been holed up for the last seven years. The Australian journalist and leaker was there seeking asylum, because other countries wanted him extradited from the UK. However, the Ecuadorian government has withdrawn the promise of asylum, and so police were able to just walk on in.

Aha, so he’s finally going to face justice over the rape allegations then?

No, he isn’t. Despite that being the reason he initially fled to the embassy, those charges have long since been dropped. The Swedish woman who accused him of rape maintains that it took place, however it is unfortunately now unlikely that he will ever face justice on those charges.

Oh, so it’s to do with his meddling in the US election then?

Again, no. While many people are mad at him for his role in putting damaging emails about the Clinton campaign out into the world, and in doing so arguably helping Donald Trump become president, that’s neither necessarily a crime nor what he’s up on here.

So why has he actually been arrested at all?

He was found guilty of failing to surrender to a court in London. So far, that’s the only thing he’s actually convicted on. However, there will likely now be an effort to extradite him to the USA.

Why?

He faces a charge of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion”, which carries with is a sentence of up to five years if convicted. It’s now up to UK to decide whether to extradite him to the US, though PM Theresa May has welcomed his arrest. The charge relates to the 2010 release of classified material about the Iraq War, leaked to him by former soldier Chelsea Manning.

How is Chelsea Manning these days anyway?

Not good. She’s currently in prison in the USA again, after being pardoned in the final days of the Obama administration. Manning is being held on the grounds of refusing to answer grand jury questions, relating to a probe into Wikileaks. Her refusal to participate in the investigation isn’t really about Wikileaks or Assange at all – rather it’s about opposition to the grand jury system by which someone’s right to remain silent can be overruled. She may be in prison for up to 18 months.

Hang on, didn’t people use to think Assange was a hero for publishing that material about the Iraq war? 

Some still do, many more used to. It’s easy to forget just how murderous and criminal the Iraq War was, and one of the pieces of material released by Assange was a video showing the indiscriminate slaughter of Iraqi civilians (and a pair of journalists) from the air. There were a few people in the group that was shot to pieces who were carrying weapons. But many were not, and had nothing to do with the insurgency at all, including two children who were seriously wounded.

There was other stuff too though right?

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There was heaps of stuff. Wikileaks had a hell of a run for a while, including a massive trove of diplomatic cables at the end of 2010, which were picked over for years afterwards. Many news organisations collaborated with Wikileaks in publishing stories based on the data, and there are concerns that if the US government is now going after Wikileaks, it could also theoretically go after news organisations on the basis of those publications too. Many press freedom advocates have expressed concerns about the current situation as potentially setting a dangerous precedent.

What Wikileaks released wasn’t exactly an unmitigated blow being struck for freedom though – the cables were released in unredacted form, which meant that many pro-democracy activists living under dictatorial rule in countries like China and Saudi Arabia were suddenly exposed.

This cheat sheet hasn’t been remotely helpful for deciding whether Assange is good or bad. 

Much like the state Assange allegedly left his room at the Ecuadorian embassy, it’s messy.


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