It’s now six and a half years since Julian Assange walked into the Ecuador embassy in London to claim asylum. Yet his life continues to surprise.
In recent months the WikiLeaks founder has been offered Ecuadorian citizenship and found himself in a “romantic struggle” with former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson.
Yet it’s a piece of legal paperwork discovered in the Eastern District of Virginia, in the US, that’s likely to have the most lasting impact. Filed in November, the forms accidentally revealed a reference to previously unknown criminal charges against Assange.
Alongside this a supporting note added that the forms “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested”. More suspicious yet, the filing was a motion to seal the charges – meaning they would be kept secret “due
to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity around the case”.
Given that neither Assange nor his legal team had any knowledge of the charges, it obviously came as something of a surprise. “We had absolutely no information whatsoever,” Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson tells WHO.
“We don’t even know what the charges are.”
The bigger question is, how this will play out for Assange? The WikiLeaks editor initially sought asylum because he feared a Swedish criminal trial (now collapsed) would lead to his extradition to the US. Thanks to the mistake in Virginia, it now appears he was right all along.
“It confirms everything that we have been concerned about, been talking about, worrying about since 2010,” adds Robinson. “The upside is that we know all of our concerns were valid, but it’s the most thoroughly unsatisfying ‘We told you so’ you could imagine.”
Robinson, her colleagues and a pack of American journalists are now doing all they can to have the indictment unsealed.
Their argument is simply that “the cat is already out of the bag,” says Robinson. “We know you’ve done it, so you should show us what it is.”
In the meantime, Assange must remain in the embassy which, despite being a stone’s throw from Harrods, provides little more than food, warmth and shelter. “His health is deteriorating,” Robinson says of the WikiLeaks founder, whose capacity to speak publicly is now severely restricted.
“For the past six months he has basically been in solitary confinement because he wasn’t permitted to have telephone, internet or visitors, only lawyers. I joke that it’s pretty degrading treatment when the only visitor he gets to see is me!”