- - Thursday, April 11, 2019

LONDON — Protesters broke out in cries of “Free Assange” Thursday even as lawmakers in Parliament let out a cheer — a sign of the deeply mixed reactions as news spread of the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at Ecuador’s Embassy in London after a nearly seven-year standoff.

The split verdict, evident everywhere in the U.K., showed how Mr. Assange, charged with involvement in computer hacking and facing charges in the U.S. as well, has won sympathy even as he wore out his welcome at the embassy and also among many Londoners who had grown tired of the seemingly never-ending drama.

He had become that ultimate no-no in British culture — the bad guest, smug and self-important, according to his hosts.

“I think he probably started out with good intentions but has compromised himself through his actions so many times, becoming a villain,” said Peter Hills, 29, an engineer from Harrow.

“It’s his general behavior and outbursts and his cozying-up to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that really turned me off him,” he added.

Mr. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012, shielded from a request from Sweden for his extradition on rape allegations, a request granted by the British high court.

SEE ALSO: Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, to face hacking-related charges in the U.S. after arrest

Although he was a diplomatic detainee, he was no hermit. He reportedly upset his Ecuadorian host with his incessant demands, his meddling in “other countries’ affairs,” his public pronouncement from the legation’s balcony and even his reluctance to clean up after his cat.

Ecuador’s decision to revoke his political asylum — capped by the remarkable video of British security agents carrying the wan, bearded Mr. Assange to a waiting police van — came almost as a relief after days of rumors that something was afoot.

“Today I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organizations against Ecuador, and especially the transgressions of international treaties have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said in a recorded statement.

Soon after the withdrawal, WikiLeaks posted the video of Mr. Assange being carried away with a copy of Gore Vidal’s book “History of the National Security State” in his hand, raising speculation in the British press. As he was being hustled into the van, Mr. Assange shouted, “The U.K. must resist this attempt by the Trump administration!”

Although he later winked and flashed a thumbs-up sign through the window to supporters, Mr. Assange won’t be able to draw on a deep well of sympathy here. A majority of Britons wanted his extradition in 2013, according to a YouGov poll. Although that number fell to 43% this year, only one in nine of those polled held a positive opinion of the Australian-born Mr. Assange, according to the poll.

‘No hero’

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed the opinion of many when he said that Mr. Assange is “no hero.”

“He has hidden from the truth for years and years, and it is right that his future should be decided in the British judicial system,” Mr. Hunt said. “I mean, it’s not so much Julian Assange being held hostage in the Ecuadorian Embassy, it’s actually Julian Assange holding the Ecuadorian Embassy hostage in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them.”

The Assange drama may not be just a one-act play for a weary Britain. Mr. Assange’s legal team has vowed to fight any effort to extradite its client to the United States.

Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson told reporters outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court that the legal team had analyzed the arrest warrant issued Thursday and a provisional extradition request from the United States. She warned about the implications for journalists.

“This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists in Europe and elsewhere around the world,” she said in footage aired by the BBC. “This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States.”

Russia, which has long backed Mr. Assange, declined to say whether it would offer him asylum. Russian officials did complain about the arrest. “We certainly hope that all of his rights will be respected,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

In Sweden, meanwhile, prosecutors were contemplating reopening the rape investigation against Mr. Assange in response to a plaintiff’s request. Sweden dropped the extradition request in 2017.

“We will now examine the matter to determine how we proceed,” Deputy Chief Prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson said in a statement. She added that the statute of limitations on the rape charge expires next year.

Many Britons say that while they want Mr. Assange gone, they prefer extradition to Sweden rather than to the U.S.

“The Swedes don’t have the death penalty, so that would be fine with me,” Mr. Hills said.

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