WikiLeaks founder and editor in chief Julian Assange continues to face fire on a number of fronts.

Assange is an Australian who is continues to live under diplomatic protection in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain to avoid arrest by Swedish and U.S. authorities. He has faced death threats over his group's release of secret military and other forms of classified information, and is the focus of U.S. and European investigations into his involvement in WikiLeaks as well as for alleged sexual misconduct.

Here's a look at some of the major events in his recent career as head of WikiLeaks, one of the world's best-known whistle-blowing organizations.

Loved and reviled

Assange is extolled by human rights groups on the one hand and despised by governments and institutions around the world on the when it comes to his whistle-blowing activities — often for the same reason.

For someone who espouses openness and transparency, Assange is a private and secretive man. He has acknowledged the use of "four bases" in the past several years, including ones in Iceland, Kenya and Sweden.

Born in July 1971 in Townsville on Australia's northeastern coast, Assange's parents ran a touring theatre company that travelled a lot.


WikiLeaks supporters hold up pictures in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Madrid. ((Paul Hanna/Reuters))

His mother later divorced and remarried a man who was part of a cult that Assange has joked about spending time running away from when he was young.

In his youth, Assange reportedly attended 37 schools and six universities. He studied physics and math at the University of Melbourne, but never completed a degree. In his 20s and early 30s he was a computer programmer of free software in Melbourne before starting WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks, which he founded in 2006, is known for posting classified government documents supplied by whistle-blowers in their entirety. The most controversial ones so far have been the hundreds of thousands of secret reports on the wars in Iraq, released in October 2010, and Afghanistan, which have gotten him attention from the CIA.

The spotlight veered back onto WikiLeaks and Assange in late November 2010, when the website began posting classified diplomatic cables between the U.S. State Department and its embassies that news outlets seized on to publish details of frank and unflattering assessments of world leaders, as well as candid views of rogue nations and discussions about global crises.


Assange holds a news conference in London in October 2010 after the release of 400,000 U.S. military documents about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The files revealed 15,000 previously unreported civilian deaths. ((Lennart Preiss/Associated Press))

Revelations include that the U.S. ordered its spies to collect DNA, bank account info and other personal information on UN officials, in violation of international law; that attacks on militants in Yemen, which the government there avowed were its own counterinsurgency efforts, were the covert work of the United States; and that Arab leaders have implored the U.S. to confront Iran with military might.

To some, Assange is a hero for these and other disclosures. He won an Amnesty International Media Award in 2009, was named by Utne Reader in December 2010 as one of 25 visionaries changing the world and was considered for Time magazine's 2010 Person of the Year.

In a TedTalk in July 2012, Assange provided some insight into his core values. "Capable, generous men do not create victims. They nurture victims, and that's something from my father and something from other capable, generous men that have been in my life," he said. "I am a combative person, so I'm not actually so big on the nurturing, but there's another way of nurturing victims, which is to police perpetrators of crimes."

Despite his good intentions, he's still viewed by some as a dangerous troublemaker, one that the U.S. government and other countries, including his native Australia, are trying to prosecute. There are even some who would rather see him dead.

Former U.S. Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has accused President Barack Obama of not doing enough to stop Assange and wrote in a Facebook posting, "Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?"

North of the border, Tom Flanagan, the prime minister's former chief of staff, told CBC News in 2012 that he'd like to see Assange assassinated. In a panel interview on Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, he said Obama "should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something." But a day later, Flanagan said that he regretted his remarks.

Assange noted the threats against him, as well as an American blogger's call for his 20-year-old son to be harmed, in an op-ed article about WikiLeaks in the newspaper the Australian. "The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption," Assange wrote.


News photographers swarm a prison van transporting Assange after he was ordered to be held in jail at a court hearing in London in December 2010. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

"People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it."

Assange went on to address critics alleging that his website has put people's lives risk. "WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed. But the U.S., with Australian government connivance, has killed thousands in the past few months alone."

On June 1, 2013, Assange published another column in The New York Times about The New Digital Age, a book by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen that analyzes the role of technology in transforming global culture, where he criticized Google for becoming a tool of U.S. foreign policy.

While he remains a resident of Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, Assange continues to receive guests and remains active on the world stage. 

Extradition battle

The Ecuadorian flap is the latest development in Assange's ongoing battle against extradition to Sweden.

Swedish authorities issued a European arrest warrant for Assange in December 2010 in connection with accusations that he had unwanted, unprotected sex with two female WikiLeaks volunteers during a trip to Stockholm in August 2010. There is some debate over whether Assange has formally been charged with crimes or whether the extradition is for the purposes of bringing him to Sweden for questioning, as the defence has been contending.


Assange arrives at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London on Feb. 24, 2011, the day a judge ruled he could be extradited to Sweden over sex crimes allegations. (Associated Press)

The allegations against him are that he had sex with one of the women without a condom while she was asleep (which under Swedish law would amount to a crime known as "minor rape") and that he physically coerced the other woman into having sex with him and continued to have sex with her even after the condom she asked him to wear had ripped. Both women admitted their sexual relations with Assange had started out as consensual.

The allegations were initially dismissed by Swedish authorities, but the investigation was reopened after the intervention of a Swedish politician. 

The 40-year-old Australian and self-described "lightning rod" turned himself in to police in London on Dec. 7, 2010, and was released on bail.

Assange has argued that he wouldn't get a fair trial in Sweden if he is extradited and that the extradition would violate his human rights. He also fears that in Sweden, he would be in greater danger of being extradited to the U.S., which is considering pursuing charges against Assange over the publication of classified documents.

He lost his initial appeal of the extradition order when a U.K. judge ruled on Feb. 24, 2011, that he could be extradited.

Following that ruling, Assange hired a new legal team and launched a new appeal. He replaced media lawyer Mark Stephens with Gareth Peirce, known for representing prisoners held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other high-profile clients, such as the Guildford Four, four Irish men who had their convictions for a suspected IRA pub bombing quashed after serving 15 years in prison.

In November 2011 the British High Court rejected Assange's appeal, but in December Britain's Supreme Court agreed to hear the case against extradition. Assange appeared before Britain’s Supreme Court on Feb. 1, 2012, to make his final appeal against extradition to Sweden over sex crime allegations.

The Supreme Court ruled in May 2012 that Assange could be sent to Sweden to face the charges. Assange filed papers on June 13, 2012, asking Britain's Supreme Court to reopen his extradition case, an unusual legal manoeuvre aimed at blocking his removal to Sweden. The next day, Britain's Supreme Court rejected the move, and on June 19 Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Assange can still apply to the European Court of Human Rights to try and overturn the extradition order, but legal experts say he stands little chance there.


Assange speaks to media from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London on Aug. 19, 2012, where he fled to avoid extradition from the U.K. to Sweden. (Sang Tan/Associated Press)

The situation was complicated further on June 19, 2012, when Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, and he continues to live in the embassy. Police in London ordered Assange to surrender at a police station June 29, but he refused to comply. British officials say Assange is beyond their reach in the embassy, but add that he would be arrested if he left the embassy for breaching his bail conditions.

On July 2, 2012, the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein, called for Assange to be prosecuted for espionage. The U.S. Justice Department also confirmed it is conducting a criminal investigation into the Wikileaks case.

Ecuador granted Assange's request for political asylum, but it's not clear if or when he will be able to leave the country's embassy in London. The U.K. Foreign Office released a statement Aug. 16, 2012, saying it was "disappointed" with Ecuador's decision, and added that it was committed to a negotiated solution that would let it "carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act." U.K. officials also threatened to use a 1987 law to lift the Ecuadorian embassy's diplomatic status.

Sweden called the decision to grant asylum to Assange "unacceptable" and summoned Ecuador's ambassador.

Assange is living in an apartment inside the Ecuadorian embassy, and continues to receive visitors. He announced on Aug. 18, 2014, that he planned to leave the building "soon," but Britain signalled it would still arrest him if he tried. Assange made the surprise assertion during a news conference alongside Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino. But his spokesman played down the chances of an imminent departure, saying the British government would first need to revise its position and let him leave without arrest, something it has repeatedly refused to do.

"I am leaving the embassy soon ... but perhaps not for the reasons that Murdoch press and Sky news are saying at the moment," Assange told reporters at the embassy in central London during the press conference. Britain's Sky News, part owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, had earlier reported that Assange was considering leaving the embassy due to deteriorating health.

Money woes

Besides Assange's personal legal problems, his organization has also been increasingly cut off from sources of financing.

On Oct. 24, 2011, Assange announced that the WikiLeaks site would temporarily stop publishing cables, because it had run out of money. He blamed the group's woes on an "unlawful financial blockade" that began in 2010 when Bank of America, MasterCard, VISA, PayPal and Western Union refused to accept donations for the site.

These developments highlight an aspect of Assange that's been debated ever since WikiLeaks jolted the world in July 2010 with its release of 75,000 secret U.S. military documents on the Afghanistan invasion: that the internet activist is as controversial as the website is transparent.

Julian Assange

Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London: In June 2014 his website released what it calls a secret draft agreement among 50 countries to limit regulation of financial services. (Associated Press)

Those documents and the subsequent ones WikiLeaks has released are believed to have been provided to the group by U.S. soldier Bradley Manning.

In mid-January, Manning’s case was recommended for court martial by a second U.S. Army official. His fate now rests with major general Michael Linnington, who will decide if Manning will face a court-martial involving more than a dozen charges. This includes aiding the enemy, an offence that carries the death penalty, though prosecutors have said they won’t seek it in this case.

A military judge refused on June 8, 2012, to dismiss any of the charges against Manning. Col. Denise Lind also indicated she was postponing Pte. 1st Class Bradley Manning's trial, initially set to start Sept. 21, to November or January 2013 because of procedural delays.

But it has been Assange, not Manning, who has garnered most of the headlines and media spotlight.

Even during his house arrest, Assange has continued to do media interviews and make public appearances.

What's next?

If Assange is extradited to Sweden to face the charges of sexual misconduct, there is a risk the United States could indict Assange and then seek his transfer from Sweden, with which it has an extradition treaty.

Several American commentators and politicians have urged charges against Assange under the U.S.'s Espionage Act or for possession of stolen government property. The U.S. says it is conducting an investigation, but many say the possibility of espionage charges is remote.

WikiLeaks says it will soldier on. The website says it has only released a small fraction of the 251,287 U.S. diplomatic cables it possesses.

With files from The Associated Press