Julian Assange: who is the Wikileaks founder, what did he do - and why does the US want to extradite him?

He was denied bail this week as the US attempted to extradite him

Assange has been evading extradition from the US (Picture: Shutterstock)
Assange has been evading extradition from the US (Picture: Shutterstock)

The World’s Most Wanted whistleblower, Julian Assange will remain in prison as he continues to fight against being extradited to the US.

At Westminster Magistrates Court today (6 January) the co-founder of WikiLeaks was refused bail from imprisonment in HMP Belmarsh, where he has been held since 2019.

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The US Justice Department continues to appeal against a decision to deny his extradition.

Had he been released, he would have been allowed to live in London with his young family, however he now faces another attempt by the US to return him to Virginia for trial.

But what is he alleged to have done and will he be extradited? Here is what you need to know.

Who is Julian Assange?

Originally a publisher, editor and activist, Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006, and registered it in Iceland.

The Australian came to the world’s attention after the US began investigating him for charges which they claim led to a national security breach.

The 49-year-old is wanted in the US over the publication of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.

Assange is engaged to South African lawyer Stella Morris, who he met while seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Originally called Sara Gonzalez Devant, Morris is the mother of Assange’s two children, Gabriel and Max, aged three and one. She became pregnant with them while visiting him at the embassy.

The couple have yet to marry, but his children are British citizens, therefore he has the right to remain in the UK and would have been released to Morris’ home address while wearing a security tag if he had been granted bail.

He appealed extradition and on Monday, 4 January the US was denied the right to extradite him.

However, today (6 January) he was denied bail until the US appeal against the court’s earlier decision is made.

What is Assange accused of?

He faces 18 charges in the US, including computer misuse and the unauthorised disclosure of national defence information.

Alongside former US army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, he is accused by the US Department of Justice of "unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defence".

Manning was released from a US jail in 2017 after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence. She was then re-arrested for refusing to testify against Mr Assange but was freed in March 2020.

Assange has also been accused of sex offences in Sweden - something which he fervently denies.

The Ecuadorian government protected him from extradition to Sweden, housing him in their embassy in London, but these charges were later dropped and Ecuador had no further interest in defending him.

He was then arrested in London in 2019 after the Ecuadorian government lifted their protection of him and is now serving time at Belmarsh prison, outside of London, after failing to appear at a court hearing dating back to 2012.

What is WikiLeaks and what classified information was exposed?

WikiLeaks is a non-profit organisation which published confidential government documents and classified media information.

The documents released by Assange during his time as co-founder included details on 9/11 and high security US prison, Guantanamo Bay.

The information relating to Guantanamo Bay is thought to include details of how new prisoners were held in isolation for two weeks to make them more compliant to interrogators.

Documents released also shared exchanges from "Pentagon, FBI, FEMA and New York Police Department" officials in the 24 hour period after the terrorist attack, 9/11.

Assange referred to these documents as containing information which would serve as a “entrance into the historical record will lead to a nuanced understanding of how this event led to death, opportunism and war."

As for the involvement of Chelsea Manning, she is thought to have been involved in sharing classified footage of a US Helicopter killing civilians in Iraq.

The attack led to the death of nine civilians, including a Reuters reporter and his driver.

The footage dated back to 2007, but was not released until 2010. Manning is alleged to have also shared several other classified documents, though denies working for WikiLeaks.

Later in 2010. WikiLeaks released more than 90,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan and more than 400,000 documents from Iraq.

These revealed information about civilian deaths, Iran's support for militant fighters in Iraq and the American pursuit for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to US Today.

Will he be extradited back to the US?

On Monday, 4 January District Judge Vanessa Baraitser decided not to allow for the US to return Assange to Virginia for trial, on the grounds that his mental health was poor and he posed a risk of suicide if returned to America.

Following this, on Wednesday, 6 January, Assange’s lawyers presented information to the court which sought to prove he would not breach bail conditions if released.

He would remain in the UK with restrictions on his movement, as part of these conditions.

Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, the US launched an appeal against the decision to refuse extradition and so DJ Baraitser has refused bail until the appeal has been considered.

The judge said of her decision: “As a matter of fairness, the US must be allowed to challenge my decision and if Mr Assange absconds during this process they will lose the opportunity to do so."

Lawyers fighting his case told how he could face up to 175 years in a US prison if found guilty, however the US Justice Department claimed he would be more likely to be sentenced to six years.

Does he have supporters?

While the US Justice Department accuses him of breaching national security and endangering lives, many others deem him a champion of government transparency.

His extradition and charges have been said by many of his supporters to be politically motivated and supportive of media censorship.

Following the refusal of extradition, UK MPs showed their support for the whistleblower.

Conservative MP David Davis tweeted: "Good news Julian Assange's extradition has been blocked, extradition treaties should not be used for political prosecutions".

In addition, former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn referred to the judgement as "good" but added he found it "alarming that the judge has accepted US government arguments threatening freedom of speech and freedom to publish".

What is Assange’s net worth?

Although there is no definitive figure relating to his net worth, Bitcoin is believed to have sent Mr Assange $400,000 since his arrest in 2019.