Julian Assange arrest: Dark moment for press freedom, says Edward Snowden; no one is above the law, warns Theresa May

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by the British police on Thursday after Ecuador abruptly revoked his seven-year asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy has invoked reactions from across the globe. While his supporters have called the move 'illegal', Ecuador and UK authorities have justified it by citing various violations done by him over a period of time since he took refuge the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Fellow free-speech activists and American whistle-blower Edward Snowden had a message for journalists covering Assange's arrest as he informed them that the United Nations had formally ruled Assange's "detention to be arbitrary, a violation of human rights." "They have repeatedly issued statements calling for him to walk free–including very recently," Snowden said.

The NSA whistleblower shared a December release from the UN's Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, which noted that UN human rights experts had repeatedly demanded that the UK abides by its international obligations to allow Assange to "walk free from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London."

Meanwhile, the UN office also shared a statement from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which said that "states that are based upon and promote the rule of law do not like to be confronted with their own violations of the law, that is understandable." "But, when they honestly admit these violations, they do honour the very spirit of the rule of law, earn enhanced respect for doing so, and set worldwide commendable examples," the group said in its statement.

Immediately after Assange's arrest, Wikileaks tweeted to lend him support. "This man is a son, a father, a brother. He has won dozens of journalism awards. He's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2010. Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimize and imprison him. #ProtectJulian," it said.

Former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa also slammed his country's current leader, Lenín Moreno, branding him "the greatest traitor in Ecuador and Latin American history" for having "allowed the British police to enter our embassy in London to arrest Assange. Moreno is a corrupt man", Correa tweeted. "But what he has done is a crime that humanity will never forget."

However, in a video statement posted on Twitter, Moreno explained that his decision to withdraw asylum for Assange came in response to "the discourteous and aggressive behaviour" of Assange. "The hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable," Moreno said. "For six years and 10 months, the Ecuadorian people have protected the human rights of Assange and have provided for his everyday needs at the facilities of our Embassy in London," he said. "When I became President of Ecuador, I inherited this situation and decided to adopt a protocol to set the daily life rules at the Embassy, which is the [least] anyone may expect from a guest hosted at his own house. Ecuador has fulfilled its obligations in the framework of international law."

Meanwhile, British home secretary Sajid Javid said that Assange was "rightly facing justice" after the arrest, thanking the Metropolitan Police and Ecuador for their roles. "No one is above the law," he said.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont tweeted that he was "deeply shocked" by the arrest, asserting that "human rights, and especially freedom of expression, are under attack once again in Europe," with the hashtag #FreeJulianAssange.

On the other hand, actress and activist Pamela Anderson also attacked Ecuador's leadership, as well as the British and American governments.

"I am in shock," Anderson said following Assange's arrest. "How could you Equador? (Because he exposed you.)" "How could you UK? Of course–you are America's b**** and you need a diversion from your idiotic Brexit bullshit," she said. "And the USA? This toxic coward of a president. He needs to rally his base? You are selfish and cruel. You have taken the entire world backwards," Anderson tweeted, before calling all three countries "devils and liars and thieves."

Among major political reactions in the US, Hillary Clinton said: "It's clear from the indictment that came out that it's not about punishing journalism." "It's about assisting the hacking of the military computers, sealed information from the United States government. And, look, I'll wait and see what happens with the charges and how it proceeds, but he skipped bail in the UK, in Sweden had those [rape] charges which have been dropped in the last several years. But, the bottom line is that he has to answer for what he's done, as has been charged."

"I do think it's ironic that he may be the only foreigner that this administration would welcome to the US," Hilary remarked.

Meanwhile, a Democratic congresswoman who is running for president Tulsi Gabbard criticized the Justice Department's indictment of Assange, saying it puts the US government on a "dangerous and slippery slope" in its treatment of journalists and all Americans.

 Julian Assange arrest: Dark moment for press freedom, says Edward Snowden; no one is above the law, warns Theresa May

File image of Julian Assange. AP

"I think what's happening here is, unfortunately, it is some form of retaliation coming from the government saying, 'Hey, this is what happens when you release information that we don't want you to release,' " Gabbard said in an interview to CNN. "And I think that's why this is such a dangerous and slippery slope, not only for journalists, not only for those in the media, but also for every American that our government can and has the power to kind of lay down the hammer to say, 'Be careful, be quiet and fall in line, otherwise we have the means to come after you.' "

The online file storing and sharing website Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom tweeted the “fight for his freedom kicks into high gear.” Whereas, HM So, a Korean-American author, argued that the Assange arrested was a bad look for Western society.

The ACLU also released a statement on Assange's arrest. “Any prosecution by the United States of Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations. Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating US secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for US journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest,” Ben Wizner, ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement.

Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, also condemned the arrest of Assange. "We strongly condemn the detention of Julian Assange and the violation of freedom of expression. Our solidarity is with this brother who is persecuted by the government for revealing its human rights violations, murders of civilians and diplomatic espionage," he tweeted.

Whereas, British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked the Ecuadorean government for their cooperation with the Assange arrest. “Julian Assange is no hero, he has hidden from the truth for years and years. It’s not so much Julian Assange being held hostage in the Ecuadorean embassy, it’s actually Julian Assange holding the Ecuadorean embassy hostage in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them," he said.

British prime minister Theresa May also said that Assange's arrest proved that "no one is above the law."

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country wants Assange’s rights to be observed, but couldn’t comment on the overall case. “We of course hope that all of his rights will be observed,” Peskov told reporters

Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne said: “Assange will continue to receive the usual consular support from the Australian Government. Consular officers will seek to visit Assange at his place of detention.... I am confident, as the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt publicly confirmed in July 2018, that Assange will receive due process in the legal proceedings he faces in the United Kingdom.”

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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2019 13:47:51 IST

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