The Current

Julian Assange's arrest is 'a vendetta, not justice,' says friend Vaughan Smith

Julian Assange was arrested and removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London Thursday, where he has lived under asylum since 2012. His friend Vaughan Smith spoke to Anna Maria Tremonti about the developments.

Assange arrested at Ecuadorian embassy in London Thursday

Video posted online by Ruptly, part of Russia Today, showed at least eight men forcibly escorting the bearded Julian Assange out of Ecuador's embassy in London. (Ruptly via CBC)

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A friend of Julian Assange says the Wikileaks founder was "expecting" his arrest at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday.

"When I saw Julian on Friday, he clearly expected this — in fact, I think half the press crop were outside the embassy, expecting it on the weekend," said Vaughan Smith, a freelance journalist and friend of Assange.

Smith told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that he was also not surprised by the arrest, but was "certainly saddened" by what he called "a very bad day for us all."

"I think it smacks of a vendetta, not justice."

Assange was arrested by British police on a U.S. extradition request Thursday, after they were invited into the Ecuadorian embassy. Police said the arrest was also related to Assange breaching British bail conditions.

His fight with authorities began in 2010, when he released reams of classified U.S. documents and videos about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with confidential diplomatic correspondence.

Assange stayed in Smith's country mansion in England while he was on bail in 2011.

Smith said that while he didn't agree that everything Assange released should have been released, he did think the Wikileaks founder "triggered a discussion about transparency that is incredibly important."

"I support Julian because I think his rights as an individual reflect on us, his fellow citizens," he told Tremonti.

"I think how we treat somebody who we may not agree with, that tells us truths that we may not wish to know ... is a great comment on us."

Assange was living in the embassy under diplomatic asylum since 2012, but that asylum status was withdrawn this week, when Ecuador's president Lenin Moreno said Assange had repeatedly violated international conventions.

He first took refuge in the embassy to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. That probe was later dropped.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at Westminster Magistrates Court, a few hours after his arrest in London. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted that "Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years."

He thanked the Ecuadorian president for co-operating with Britain "to ensure Assange faces justice."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from Thomson Reuters. Produced by Karin Marley.