WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange woke up in a British jail yesterday at the start of a likely lengthy extradition battle after a dramatic end to his seven-year stay in Ecuador's London embassy.
Within hours of police hauling him out of the embassy, the 47-year-old Australian appeared in court for breaching his British bail conditions back in 2012 and to face a subsequent US extradition request.
After Assange was arrested and dragged into a police van in the British capital, American officials unsealed an indictment against him for computer hacking as part of his WikiLeaks whistle-blowing activities.
The Sun tabloid reported he was being held in Wandsworth prison in south London, where he spent nine days in 2010 following an investigation over alleged sexual assault in Sweden that has since been dropped.
Deemed "the most overcrowded prison" in England at its last inspection in 2018, the 19th-century facility holds around 1,600 inmates.
Inspectors found "most prisoners share a cell designed for one person" while more than a third "were receiving psychosocial help for substance misuse problems".
Assange was remanded into prison custody Thursday at a short hearing in front of a London judge, who pronounced him guilty of disobeying his bail terms by fleeing to the embassy in June 2012.
He could receive up to a year in prison when sentenced at an as yet undetermined later date.
His separate extradition case is set to be next heard by video-link at Westminster Magistrates Court on May 2.
Assange's London lawyer Jennifer Robinson confirmed he would be "contesting and fighting" his long-feared extradition to the United States.
WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson warned he fears the US will add more charges, meaning he could face decades in an American prison.
EXTRADITION 'SHOULD BE OPPOSED'
Assange sought asylum at Ecuador's premises in London's chic Knightsbridge district after a British judge ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face the sexual assault allegations.
Inside the red-brick building he lived a sparse existence in a flat measuring 18 square metres (190 square feet) and comprising just a bed, shower, computer, treadmill and microwave.
However, relations with his Ecuadoran hosts gradually soured and pro-US President Lenin Moreno on Thursday pulled his asylum, cancelled his citizenship and permitted British police to remove Assange, reported AFP.
British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the arrest as showing "no one is above the law".
Meanwhile May's words prompted a furious reaction on Twitter from Assange's mother, who lives in Australia.
She accused the British prime minister of "trying to divert attention away from her Brexit dog's breakfast by cheering on the thuggish, brutal, unlawful arrest of my courageous, tortured multi-award winning journalist son".
The United Nations human rights office yesterday urged judicial authorities to ensure that Assange gets a fair trial, reported Reuters.
"We expect all the relevant authorities to ensure Mr Assange's right to a fair trial is upheld by authorities, including in any extradition proceedings that may take place," UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a Geneva news briefing.
Legal experts said yesterday that the case could take several years mired in British courts and, if appealed, potentially go all the way to the European Court of Justice.
"This extradition will be very difficult to fight -- given the nature of the UK-US extradition agreement," Anthony Hanratty from the law firm BDB Pitmans told The Times.
Like most extradition treaties, the US-UK one excludes “political offenses.” There's no clear definition of that term, but it is known to cover crimes like treason, espionage and sedition, as well as offenses that are directed in some way against the power of the state.
Hanratty added other factors stacked against Assange included "the weight which the UK courts attach to the trust and co-operation between the two countries and the effort the US will likely put in".
Whatever happens now, one thing is clear: Assange is not going anywhere soon.
Assange's saga kicked off in November 2010, when his publication of 250,000 confidential US diplomatic cables that month left American officialdom apoplectic. Joe Biden, then-US vice president, compared Assange to a “high-tech terrorist.”
In the US intelligence community, the rage against Assange lingered. On the sidelines of a conference a few years ago, a former senior National Security Agency official told an Associated Press journalist that all he wanted was a couple of minutes alone with Assange in a dark alley, grasping his hands together as if he were crushing a man's windpipe.
Assange seemed to sense that the release of the diplomatic cables, which also enraged and embarrassed other countries around the world, were the point of no return.
A document published by the AP last year showed he considered the idea of getting a Russian visa through his friend and sometimes WikiLeaks collaborator, Israel Shamir.
Assange would eventually get the visa, Shamir said later, but it came several weeks too late. Sweden had already applied for an Interpol Red Notice, something akin to an international arrest warrant, making travel all but impossible. That left Assange little choice but to turn himself in on December 7, 2010, to British authorities.