WikiLeaks editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson has issued a warning that any information recovered by U.S. authorities from Julian Assange’s devices – seized following his expulsion from London’s Ecuadorian embassy in April – is likely to be tampered with, claiming that chain-of-custody procedures have already been violated.
Hrafnsson, in an interview with the Associated Press this week, said there was no way to guarantee the devices hadn’t been tampered with in the six weeks since his arrest. “If anything surfaces, I can assure you it would’ve been planted,” he told the news agency, adding that “protections” had been in place for “a very long time.”
“Julian isn’t a novice when it comes to security and securing his information,” he said.
The remarks came as news broke that Ecuadorian authorities had catalogued the WikiLeaks founder’s personal belongings, including electronic devices containing data as-of-yet undisclosed. The AP reported that the authorities said they were acting on a request made by U.S. prosecutors.
Per WikiLeaks, the cache of documents includes medical records, legal papers, and two manuscripts, in addition to electronic equipment.
“Ecuador is committing a flagrant violation of the most basic norms of the institution of asylum by handing over all the asylee’s personal belongings indiscriminately to the country that he was being protected from – the United States.”
Hrafnsson characterised as “disgraceful” Ecuador’s sudden cooperation with the U.S. government after having granted Assange asylum for nearly seven years. “There is no doubt in my mind that Ecuador, either independently or at the behest of the U.S., has tampered with the belongings it will send to the United States,” he added.
Hrafnsson also trashed the country as being run by “criminals and liars.”
Ecuador’s embassy and its consulate in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Swedish authorities are also trying to secure extradition of the WikiLeaks founder over suspicion of rape stemming from 2010 allegations brought by two women. Assange, who has always maintained his innocence, took refuge in the embassy specifically to avoid extradition.
WikiLeaks long claimed that once in Sweden, Assange would be turned over to the U.S. government to face charges related to classified material published by the site. The U.S. government has formally charged Assange with conspiracy to commit a computer crime, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
It’s unclear whether additional charges might be brought against Assange in the U.S. where a federal grand jury is still convened in the Eastern District of Virginia. Activist and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who admitted in 2013 to acting as a source for WikiLeaks and sending the organization hundreds of thousands of classified documents concerning the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is currently being held in a Virginia jail for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury about her past ties to the group.
This week, Swedish prosecutors secured a June 3 court date to argue the case for extraditing Assange to Sweden, as opposed to the United States. The statute of limitations for one of the rape allegations against him expired in 2015, but another was merely dropped at the time as authorities saw no way to proceed while he was holed up in the London embassy.
The U.S. extradition request will be considered by a U.K. court on June 12.
Baltasar Garzón, the international legal coordinator for the defense of Assange and WikiLeaks, told the Guardian that Ecuador’s decision to seize Assange’s property to share it with “the agent of political persecution against him” (i.e., the United States), was “extremely worrying.”
Assange attorney Aitor Martinez said in a statement: “Ecuador is committing a flagrant violation of the most basic norms of the institution of asylum by handing over all the asylee’s personal belongings indiscriminately to the country that he was being protected from – the United States.”
“This is completely unprecedented in the history of asylum,” the lawyer said.
Featured image: Matt Dunham (AP)