"Let Assange free or you will pay!" — this is the stark warning that has been issued by the hacker group Anonymous to the "captors" of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was arrested on 11 April at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by UK police "on behalf of the United States authorities".
"This is a message for the UK government and their cohorts around the world who are working to silence whistleblowers. […] This arrest and the greater persecution of Wikileaks and other whistleblowers sends a clear message that these governments will stop at nothing to maintain their secrecy. […]", the hacktivists wrote.
In a lengthy message, Anonymous highlighted that Assange is considered to be an "enemy of the state" because he has brought to light the crimes of both the left and the right.
"Influential people representing the governments of the UK, the United States, and Ecuador have all signed off on this unprecedented attack on journalism. […] Every single powerful person who has signed off on this order should be shaking in their boots, because the force of the internet is about to be unleashed upon them. All the way from the CIA, the President of the United States, and down to the arresting officers that carried Assange out of the embassy, you have all exposed yourselves as enemies of the people and it is time for Anonymous to act accordingly", the group warned.
Julian Assange was arrested in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on 11 April in what WikiLeaks described as an illegal termination of his political asylum in violation of international law.
The UK judge also said that the United States needs to produce its case for requesting Assange's extradition from Britain by 12 June.
Following his arrest, the US Department of Justice also announced charges against him, having accused the whistleblower of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst, to "commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified US government computer". If found guilty on hacking charges, then Assange could face up to five years in a US prison.
Assange's arrest has prompted thousands of people to sign a petition urging the UK government not to hand the journalist over to the United States, where he is wanted for leaks of classified government data.
"The sentence is already clear: if not the death penalty then life in a supermax prison and ill treatment like Chelsea Manning. The very extradition of Julian Assange to the United States would at the same time mean the final death of freedom of the press in the West", the petition added.
Reacting to the news of the Australian's detention, another world-famous whistleblower, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, tweeted that it was a "dark moment for press freedom".
Images of Ecuador's ambassador inviting the UK's secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of--like it or not--award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom. https://t.co/ys1AIdh2FP— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) 11 апреля 2019 г.
Journalist and The Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald, for his part, went on a full-blown rampage against fellow reporters who did not denounce Assange's arrest. He also slammed those who were silent after the DoJ announced its hacking accusations against the WikiLeaks founder for allegedly helping Manning hack into a Department of Defence computer.
The DOJ says part of what Assange did to justify his prosecution — beyond allegedly helping Manning get the documents — is he encouraged Manning to get more docs for him to publish. Journalists do this with sources constantly: it's the criminalization of journalism pic.twitter.com/GXNjWlkFZw— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) 11 апреля 2019 г.
Assange, who rose to international prominence after leaking a trove of classified documents on US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department cables, found asylum in the Ecuadorian diplomatic premises in 2012 when he tried to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was under investigation in a sexual assault case.
The Australian journalist has denied the rape allegations, calling them politically motivated because they followed the leak of US docs. Even though Sweden later dropped the case, British police said they intended to detain Assange as soon as he left the embassy, for violating the conditions of his bail.