WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

The United States has charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of conspiring to commit computer intrusion according to a Justice Department indictment unsealed on Thursday. The charge follows Assange's arrest by London police on Thursday morning.

The charge, stemming from his involvement in the 2010 release of classified US documents, filed in March 2018, has a penalty of up to five years in prison. However, Assange has a right to fight the US extradition request in British courts.

Assange is being accused of aiding an Army private, Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea Manning, to crack a password on a Defense Department computer, which Manning had access to as an intelligence analyst.

Manning leaked classified documents, greatly embarrassing the US and other countries about various abuses that took place in Afghanistan and Iraq by the US army and other forces, among other matters. Manning received a sentence of 35 years in prison but served only seven years before being pardoned by then President Barack Obama in 2017.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. In 2010, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for Assange for sexual assault charges. Assange denied the charges and claimed that Sweden would extradite him to the United States where he would be charged for his role in the leaked documents. He eventually surrendered to the UK police, but breached his bail and was granted asylum by Eucador in 2012.

Sweden dropped its charges against Assange in 2017. However, Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the Swedish woman who claimed to have been assaulted by Assange told the Guardian that she is doing everything she can to have Assange extradited to Sweden to be prosecuted for rape.

"My client and I have today received the news that Assange has been arrested in London," Fritz said. "It did understandably come as a shock to my client that what we have been waiting and hoping for since 2012 has now finally happened. We are going to do everything we possibly can to get the Swedish police investigation re-opened so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape. No rape victim should have to wait nine years to see justice be served. I have requested an urgent procedure [from the prosecutor to extradite Assange]."

Jennifer Robinson, Assange's lawyer, made a statement to the media following Assange's arrest. “Since 2010 we’ve warned that Julian Assange would face prosecution and extradition to the United States for his publishing activities with Wikileaks. Unfortunately today we’ve been proven right …

“We’ve today received a warrant and a provisional extradition request from the United States alleging that he has conspired with Chelsea Manning in relation to the materials published by Wikileaks in 2010. This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organisations 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.”

Assange was arrested on Thursday morning following Ecuador's decision to withdraw his asylum after "his repeated violations to international conventions."

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