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From embassy to prison: Assange settles in for legal battle

Published
A woman holds up the Spanish hashtag #Freedom during a protest against the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, outside the Foreign Ministry in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 11, 2019. On Thursday, Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno allowed British authorities to forcibly remove Assange from Ecuador’s small embassy in London where he was given safe haven in 2012. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim institution in the southeast part of the city where he nevertheless has certain advantages he didn't have when he was holed up, hiding from the law.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said Friday that the ailing Assange should finally be able to receive medical care and will be able to meet with his lawyers more easily than he could in the embassy, where a feud with Ecuadorian authorities had led to a ban on most guests.

The 47-year-old Assange has extreme shoulder pain and tooth pain, Hrafnsson said.

For nearly seven years, Assange lived in the embassy without taking a step outside for fear of being arrested and sent to the U.S. to be prosecuted.

On Thursday, British authorities dragged the Australian native from the embassy, and U.S. authorities announced charges against him of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer, setting up what is expected to be an epic legal and political battle over whether to extradite him to the U.S.

His arrest became possible after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, complaining that he was an obnoxious houseguest who didn't clean up after his cat and that WikiLeaks was plotting to blackmail the Latin American country's president.

At the prison, where he is being held while the extradition process plays out, "there are medical facilities there, access to dental care I would assume, and a garden to go out into," Hrafnsson said.

"But comparing one prison to another and giving a star rating is not really what's on my mind," he said. "What's on my mind is there's an innocent man in prison for doing his job as a journalist, and that's an outrage."

He said Assange is in relatively good mental condition considering the stress of recent days.

The political debate over whether to extradite Assange is already taking shape, with Britain's opposition Labour Party urging the government not to hand him over to the Americans. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the U.S. is prosecuting Assange because he exposed "evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Diane Abbott, Labour's spokeswoman for domestic affairs, told Parliament: "It is this whistle-blowing into illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians and corruption on a grand scale that has put Julian Assange in the cross hairs of the U.S. administration."

The politicization of the case reflects the clashing views of Assange as either a heroic whistleblower standing up to the mighty United States or a willing stooge who helped the Russians boost Donald Trump's presidential campaign by publishing hacked emails that embarrassed his rival, Hillary Clinton.

Assange's bid to fend off extradition could take years and involve several layers of appeal. He could also face a second extradition request if Sweden decides to pursue a rape case against him that was suspended in 2017, when he was in the embassy, beyond the reach of the law.

If found guilty of the U.S. charges, Assange could get five years in prison. His next court appearance is set for May 2 via a prison video link.

Extradition lawyer Ben Keith said the court will not assess the evidence against Assange to determine his guilt or innocence but will scrutinize whether the offense he is accused of in the U.S. would be a crime in Britain.

"The most likely outcome is that he will be extracted to the United States," he said.

If Assange loses in extradition court, he could appeal several times and ultimately try to have his case heard at the European Court of Human Rights — unless Britain has left the European Union by that time.

Police bundle WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy into a police van in London after he was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019. Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum. (@DailyDOOH via AP)
Julian Assange gestures as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019. Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum .(Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
FILE  - This Sept. 4, 2015 file photo shows a general view of HMP Belmarsh, in  London. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim facility in southeast London after his arrest on Thursday, April 11, 2019.  (Anthony Devlin/PA via AP, File)
Kristinn Hrafnnson, Wikileaks editor in chief, poses for a portrait during a interview with the Associated Press in London, Friday, April 12, 2019. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim institution in the southeast part of the city where he nevertheless has certain advantages he didn’t have when he was holed up, hiding from the law. Hrafnsson said Friday that the ailing Julian Assange should finally be able to receive medical care and will be able to meet with his lawyers more easily than he could in the embassy, where a feud with Ecuadorian authorities had led to a ban on most guests.  (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2011, file photo, the founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange speaks to the media after his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London. The arrest of Assange reignites a debate with no easy answer: Is the former computer hacker and founder of WikiLeaks a journalist or not? His lawyers are quick to characterize the case against him as a threat to all journalists. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
Julian Assange hace señas a su llegada al Tribunal de Magistrados de Westminster, en Londres, después de que agentes lo sacaran de la embajada ecuatoriana y lo arrestaran, el jueves 11 de abril de 2019. (Victoria Jones/PA vía AP)
A woman holds up the Spanish message:
Kristinn Hrafnnson, Wikileaks editor in chief, poses for a portrait during a interview with the Associated Press in London, Friday, April 12, 2019. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim institution in the southeast part of the city where he nevertheless has certain advantages he didn’t have when he was holed up, hiding from the law. Hrafnsson said Friday that the ailing Assange should finally be able to receive medical care and will be able to meet with his lawyers more easily than he could in the embassy, where a feud with Ecuadorian authorities had led to a ban on most guests.  (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Kristinn Hrafnnson, Wikileaks editor in chief, poses for a portrait during a interview with the Associated Press in London, Friday, April 12, 2019. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim institution in the southeast part of the city where he nevertheless has certain advantages he didn’t have when he was holed up, hiding from the law. Hrafnsson said Friday that the ailing Julian Assange should finally be able to receive medical care and will be able to meet with his lawyers more easily than he could in the embassy, where a feud with Ecuadorian authorities had led to a ban on most guests.  (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Kristinn Hrafnnson, Wikileaks editor in chief, poses for a portrait during a interview with the Associated Press in London, Friday, April 12, 2019. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim institution in the southeast part of the city where he nevertheless has certain advantages he didn’t have when he was holed up, hiding from the law. Hrafnsson said Friday that the ailing Julian Assange should finally be able to receive medical care and will be able to meet with his lawyers more easily than he could in the embassy, where a feud with Ecuadorian authorities had led to a ban on most guests. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
FILE  - This Sept. 4, 2015 file photo shows a general view of HMP Belmarsh, in  London. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim facility in southeast London after his arrest on Thursday, April 11, 2019.  (Anthony Devlin/PA via AP, File)
FILE - This Sept. 4, 2015 file photo shows a general view of HMP Belmarsh, in London. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim facility in southeast London after his arrest on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Anthony Devlin/PA via AP, File)
Police bundle WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy into a police van in London after he was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019. Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum. (@DailyDOOH via AP)
Police bundle WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy into a police van in London after he was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019. Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum. (@DailyDOOH via AP)
Julian Assange gestures as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019. Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum .(Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
Julian Assange gestures as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody Thursday April 11, 2019. Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum .(Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2011, file photo, the founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange speaks to the media after his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London. The arrest of Assange reignites a debate with no easy answer: Is the former computer hacker and founder of WikiLeaks a journalist or not? His lawyers are quick to characterize the case against him as a threat to all journalists. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2011, file photo, the founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange speaks to the media after his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London. The arrest of Assange reignites a debate with no easy answer: Is the former computer hacker and founder of WikiLeaks a journalist or not? His lawyers are quick to characterize the case against him as a threat to all journalists. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
Julian Assange hace señas a su llegada al Tribunal de Magistrados de Westminster, en Londres, después de que agentes lo sacaran de la embajada ecuatoriana y lo arrestaran, el jueves 11 de abril de 2019. (Victoria Jones/PA vía AP)
Julian Assange hace señas a su llegada al Tribunal de Magistrados de Westminster, en Londres, después de que agentes lo sacaran de la embajada ecuatoriana y lo arrestaran, el jueves 11 de abril de 2019. (Victoria Jones/PA vía AP)
A woman holds up the Spanish message:
A woman holds up the Spanish message: "I'm a terrorist for telling the truth," during a protest against the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, outside the Foreign Ministry in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 11, 2019. On Thursday, Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno allowed British authorities to forcibly remove Assange from Ecuador’s small embassy in London. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Kristinn Hrafnnson, Wikileaks editor in chief, poses for a portrait during a interview with the Associated Press in London, Friday, April 12, 2019. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim institution in the southeast part of the city where he nevertheless has certain advantages he didn’t have when he was holed up, hiding from the law. Hrafnsson said Friday that the ailing Assange should finally be able to receive medical care and will be able to meet with his lawyers more easily than he could in the embassy, where a feud with Ecuadorian authorities had led to a ban on most guests.  (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Kristinn Hrafnnson, Wikileaks editor in chief, poses for a portrait during a interview with the Associated Press in London, Friday, April 12, 2019. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has exchanged a small room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London for a cell at Belmarsh Prison, a grim institution in the southeast part of the city where he nevertheless has certain advantages he didn’t have when he was holed up, hiding from the law. Hrafnsson said Friday that the ailing Assange should finally be able to receive medical care and will be able to meet with his lawyers more easily than he could in the embassy, where a feud with Ecuadorian authorities had led to a ban on most guests. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A woman holds up the Spanish hashtag #Freedom during a protest against the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, outside the Foreign Ministry in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 11, 2019. On Thursday, Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno allowed British authorities to forcibly remove Assange from Ecuador’s small embassy in London where he was given safe haven in 2012. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
A woman holds up the Spanish hashtag #Freedom during a protest against the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, outside the Foreign Ministry in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 11, 2019. On Thursday, Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno allowed British authorities to forcibly remove Assange from Ecuador’s small embassy in London where he was given safe haven in 2012. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)