Five things to know about Julian Assange

Five things to know about Julian Assange

The founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012.

Swedish prosecutors dropped probe against Assange on May 19 [File: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA]

When did Julian Assange come to prominence?

Julian Assange first caught the world’s attention when his website, WikiLeaks, in 2007 released leaked manuals for US prison guards at Guantanamo Bay.

But Assange became significantly more prominent in 2010 when he worked with several major news organisations to publish millions of classified diplomatic cables.

In 2016, he caused a storm by releasing emails showing US Democratic Party officials favouring Hillary Clinton over left-winger Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary elections, forcing high-ranking party members to resign.

How is Assange linked to US soldier Chelsea Manning?

Manning handed over 700,000 classified US documents to WikiLeaks. She was given a 35-year prison sentence, which former US president Barack Obama commuted in January.

Manning was freed on May 17.

Why is the Australian whistleblower holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London?

Assange entered the embassy in 2012 to avoid claim asylum and avoid extradition to Sweden over rape accusations stemming from encounters with two women in the Scandinavian country in August 2010.

The 45-year-old Australian has always denied the allegations, which he feared would see him extradited to the US and put on trial over the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents.

Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation on May 19 because they said there was no reason to believe he would be brought to Sweden in the foreseeable future.

What happens now?

British police said they would have to arrest him if he walks out of the embassy on the grounds that he had breached his bail.

The maximum punishment for skipping bail in Britain is one year in jail. However, while the courts process his case, time served while in custody would be deducted.

In theory he could therefore be sentenced to a prison term and then immediately walk free.

Assange could also be extradited to the US if he leaves the embassy. In a Twitter post, WikiLeaks said the UK has refused to comment whether it has received a US warrant to extradite Assange.

Sweden could also resume its case if Assange were to be arrested. Marianne Ny, Sweden’s director of public prosecutions, said the investigation could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before August 2020 when the allegations against him elapse under Swedish law.

Ecudaor has said it is planning to intensify diplomatic efforts with London so that Assange can gain safe passage to his asylum.

Assange is expected to stay put for now in his 18-square-metre room in the Ecuadorian embassy.

What do we know about his background?

The 45-year-old father of two is from Townsville city in the Australian state of Queensland. He was born on July 3, 1971 and had a nomadic childhood, attending 37 schools.

Living in Melbourne in the 1980s and 1990s, he discovered a talent for computer hacking. He was later charged with 30 counts of computer crime, including allegedly hacking police and US military computers.

He admitted most of the charges and walked away with a fine.

Source: News agencies


UN: South Sudan forces have committed capital crimes

UN human rights investigators say pro-government SPLA fighters killed, raped and tortured civilians in the town of Yei.

The UN says fighting flared when fighters loyal to President Kiir pursued his rival Riek Machar as he fled from Juba [File: Reuters]
The UN says fighting flared when fighters loyal to President Kiir pursued his rival Riek Machar as he fled from Juba [File: Reuters]

South Sudanese pro-government forces killed at least 114 civilians in and around Yei town between July 2016 and January 2017, as well as committing uncounted rapes, looting and torture, the UN human rights office said.

“Attacks were committed with an alarming degree of brutality and, like elsewhere in the country, appeared to have an ethnic dimension,” a report on the UN investigation said on Friday.

“These cases included attacks on funerals and indiscriminate shelling of civilians; cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including those fleeing fighting; often committed in front of the victims’ families.”

Fighting flared when the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), loyal to President Salva Kiir, pursued his rival and former deputy Riek Machar and a small band of followers as they fled from the capital Juba, southwest through Yei and into neighbouring Congo.

The pursuit of Machar ushered in a particularly violent period in South Sudan’s Equatorias region, with multiple localised conflicts, particularly in Yei, the report said.

“In view of the restrictions of access faced by (the UN), the number of documented cases may only be a fraction of those actually committed. Some of the human rights violations and abuses committed in and around Yei may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity and warrant further investigation.”

Tens of thousands of civilians from Yei and other areas poured into neighbouring Uganda [FILE: Reuters]

South Sudan army spokesperson Colonel Santo Domic Chol told Reuters news agency on Friday that the report was “baseless”.

“This is not the first time the UN has accused the SPLA and tried to portray us as enemies of the people,” he said.

“The SPLA is one of the biggest military institutions in the country and it accommodates people from different background and the whole SPLA cannot go out and rape citizens… so it has to be specific that we have seen two or three SPLA soldiers in such location committing such crimes,” he said.

Domic said President Kiir had given orders to all SPLA commanders in Yei to punish soldiers who commit gender-based violence.

South Sudan has been in chaos since Kiir and Machar’s rivalry first sparked a conflict in December 2013, with UN investigators finding gang rape on an “epic” scale, ethnic cleansing and, most recently, famine.

But Yei, a traditionally ethnically diverse area, had been largely peaceful, the report said.

The town had an estimated population of 300,000 before the crisis began in July 2016, but 60-70 percent of the population had fled by September.

Civilians from Yei and other areas poured into Uganda, with 320,000 arriving as refugees by the end of 2016, 80 per cent of them women and children. About 180,000 more were registered in Uganda by the first week of February 2017.

Many people were trapped by the fighting, and others were attacked on the road as they tried to escape, but the SPLA helped ethnic Dinka civilians – the same ethnicity of President Kiir – to move to the capital, providing them with the use of military and civilian vehicles for transport.

Citing data from South Sudan’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, the report said 46,000 Dinka civilians, mainly from Yei town, had been registered in Juba by the end of 2016.

Violence has continued in the area, with rebel forces attacking Yei and killing at least four government soldiers earlier this week.

Source: News agencies

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