Julian Assange appears in court

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has appeared in a London court just hours after he was forcibly removed by British police from the Ecuadorian embassy where he had been holed up since 2012.

Assange waved to a packed public gallery as he walked into court wearing a black suit and polo shirt, with grey hair tied into a pony tail and long beard.

He saluted the public gallery before giving a thumbs-up.

Assange pleaded not guilty to a charge of failing to surrender to a Swedish warrant and skipping bail.

District Judge Michael Snow called Assange a "narcissist" and convicted him of skipping bail. Sentencing will be at a later date.

Assange resisted as he was dragged down several steps at the embassy by officers on Thursday morning, bundled into a police van and taken to a central London police station.

As he was being hauled out of the embassy, the Australiann was heard shouting, "This is unlawful, I'm not leaving."

After Assange was forcibly removed, Scotland Yard said he was arrested "on behalf of the United States authorities".

British Prime Minister Theresa May hailed the news in parliament, to cheers and cries of "Hear, hear!" from lawmakers.

Assange after his arrest.
Assange after his arrest. Photo credit: Reuters

Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson said he "has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a US extradition request".

His Australian legal adviser Greg Barns fear he could face 45 years in jail in the US for publishing classified military documents.

The US Justice Department said in a statement Assange, 47, was arrested pursuant to the US/UK extradition treaty, and accused him of involvement in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the US.

The indictment said Assange in March 2010 engaged in a conspiracy to assist former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in cracking a password stored on US Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a US government network used for classified documents and communications.

Manning was convicted by court-martial in 2013, but the final 28 years of her 35-year sentence were commuted by then-President Barack Obama.

Assange was charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and could face up to five years in prison.

"Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges," Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange, said in a statement, saying the allegations "boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identify of that source".

US President Donald Trump, who in 2016 said "I love WikiLeaks" after it released emails that US authorities have said were hacked by Russia to harm his election opponent Hillary Clinton, told reporters he had no opinion on the charges against Assange.

"I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not my thing," Trump said.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Assange would continue to receive consular support and Australian officials will visit him in custody.

"I am confident, as the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt publicly confirmed in July 2018, that Mr Assange will receive due process in the legal proceedings he faces in the United Kingdom," Payne said in a statement.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor in chief of Wikileaks, and barrister Jennifer Robinson talk to the media outside the Westminster Magistrates Court
Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor in chief of Wikileaks, and barrister Jennifer Robinson talk to the media outside the Westminster Magistrates Court. Photo credit: Reuters

Ecuador's president Lenin Moreno said the country terminated Assange's asylum because he repeatedly violated international conventions.

"He particularly violated the norm of not intervening in the internal affairs of other states," Moreno said.

He accused Assange of discourteous and aggressive behaviour and WikiLeaks of making "hostile and threatening declarations" against Ecuador.

"The asylum of Mr Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable," Moreno said in a video statement.

Assange took refuge in Ecuador's London embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation.

That probe was later dropped, but Assange fears he could be extradited to face charges in the US where federal prosecutors are investigating WikiLeaks.

Former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden called the arrest a "dark moment for press freedom", and said it contravened a call by the United Nations to allow him to walk free.

"Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom," Snowden, who lives in Moscow under an asylum deal after he leaked classified information in 2013, wrote on Twitter.

Breakdown in relationship

Assange's relationship with his hosts collapsed after Ecuador accused him of leaking information about Moreno's personal life. Moreno had previously said Assange has violated the terms of his asylum.

Moreno said he had asked Britain to guarantee Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.

Hunt thanked Moreno for allowing police to arrest Assange at the embassy.

"Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years," Hunt tweeted.

"Thank you Ecuador and President @Lenin Moreno for your cooperation with @foreignoffice to ensure Assange faces justice."

WikiLeaks said Ecuador had illegally terminated Assange's political asylum in violation of international law.

Reuters / Newshub.