In 2012, Julian Assange was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Today, even as he faces the threat of a possible U.S. indictment, the new Ecuadorian leadership would like to get rid of their guest.

Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2017

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Even public attorneys make mistakes. Take, for instance, Kellen Dwyer, a U.S. prosecutor from Alexandria, Virginia, who suffered a particularly embarrassing mishap in August. While assembling an official document, Dwyer copied and pasted blocks of text from another document he had previously produced — and twice forgot to remove the name Assange. As in Julian Assange, the founder of the whistleblowing platform WikiLeaks.

The document in question was a government motion to keep a criminal indictment sealed. Such secrecy, the document notes, is the only way to “keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” It goes on to say that “the complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested” and can no longer evade arrest and extradition.

This is something that Assange has always suspected but could never prove, namely that U.S. prosecutors have already filed or are close to filing charges against him and will soon issue a warrant for his arrest.

For the last six-and-a-half years, Assange has essentially been stuck in London, living in the Ecuadorian Embassy, a dignified brick building just a few steps from the world-famous department store Harrods in Knightsbridge. He doesn’t get much sun and his hair has turned white as snow, as has his skin.

In early November, the 47-year-old Australian was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of a fire extinguisher tipping over. He had placed the object in front of the open window of his raised-ground-floor bedroom. Was it just another bout of psychological warfare against Assange on the part of the Ecuadorian government?

The government in Quito has been providing Assange with political asylum since August 2012, but the relationship has recently soured and the Ecuadorian president would now like to see the Australian journalist leave the embassy sooner rather than later. In late March, Ecuadorian diplomats cut off Assange’s internet connection and installed a jammer designed to prevent him from communicating with the outside world. Last month, the government issued new rules for dealing with their famous yet difficult guest.

When the fire extinguisher fell over that night, Assange bolted upright in bed and didn’t know if the wind had pushed open the window or whether someone was trying to enter his room from outside. Was it mere paranoia? Assange has reason to fear intelligence agents kidnapping him and taking him to the U.S. In spring 2017, Mike Pompeo — who has since been appointed secretary of state by U.S. President Donald Trump — described WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”

Even since it has been confirmed that at least a draft of an indictment against Assange exists, indications have also been mounting that a secret extradition request may already have been prepared and delivered to the U.S. Embassy in London. The British authorities, for their part, would likely arrest him immediately as soon as he set foot outside the Ecuadorian Embassy. Scotland Yard accuses him of having skipped bail, a violation that carries the possibility of up to a year in prison.

Close Partners

Assange has said on multiple occasions that he would turn himself into the British police and go to prison if the government in London promised to allow him to travel to Ecuador afterward. But such an assurance from the Brits has not been forthcoming. They would rather hand Assange over to the U.S. The British and American intelligence agencies, after all, are close partners.

In 2010, WikiLeaks published documents in conjunction with the Guardian, the New York Times and DER SPIEGEL pertaining to U.S. war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, the U.S. government has been after Assange and a grand jury in Virginia is investigating several people in connection with WikiLeaks, including Assange himself, the former WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison of Britain and Jacob Appelbaum, a U.S. citizen who lives in Berlin. The basis of those investigations could be the Espionage Act of 1917, which allows for penalties of up to life in prison. The message is clear: Potential copycats should think twice about taking on the U.S. government and its intelligence services.