The 50-year-old Australian, with pale skin, gray hair and a sober expression, sometimes sporting a sarcastic half-smile, has spent a decade in prison.
First, a refugee since June 2012 in the Ecuadorian embassy in London so as not to be extradited to Sweden for some accusations of rape that he denounced as a trap to hand him over to the United States.
Later, since his spectacular arrest by the British police in April 2019 when Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno withdrew the protection offered by his predecessor Rafael Correa, held in a high-security prison near London.
With serious health problems according to his lawyers, coordinated internationally by former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, Assange has fought from there against the extradition process initiated by the United States, which wants to try him for espionage, an accusation that could cost him a sentence of 175 jail years.
With the signing this Friday of the extradition decree by the British Minister of the Interior, Priti Patel, one of his last chances to escape trial in the United States vanishes, although Assange’s relatives have already announced that they will appeal.
Assange and WikiLeaks became famous in 2010 with the publication of hundreds of thousands of secret US documents that exposed their practices in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pacifists and transparency advocates praised him for revealing civilian deaths, acts of torture and clandestine military operations.
But the online dissemination of unredacted documents, which exposed the names of informants, earned him the distancing of some newspapers that had initially collaborated with him and Washington accused him of putting lives in danger with his irresponsibility.
– US elections and Catalan independence movement –
His long confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy had been extinguishing his media prominence, until in November 2016 he interfered in the US elections and in October 2017, in the Catalan independence process.
WikiLeaks likely contributed to Donald Trump’s victory by publishing thousands of secret campaign messages from his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, apparently leaked by Russia. And he backed the Catalan separatists against the Spanish government at the time, disseminating images of the harsh police response to the banned independence referendum.
He was accused of spreading “Russian propaganda”, but Assange denied being in the service of Moscow: “WikiLeaks has published more than 800,000 documents related to Russia or [su presidente Vladimir] Putin, and most are critical,” he said.
– “Egocentric” and “obsessive” –
Assange was born on July 3, 1971 in the Australian town of Townsville.
His mother, theatrical artist Christine Ann Assange, separated from his father before the birth of Julian, who for 15 years lived in more than 30 cities, before settling in Melbourne.
An intelligent student, he studied mathematics, physics and computer science at university without graduating. He was then seduced by hacking and entered the websites of NASA and the Pentagon under the pseudonym “Mendax”.
When WikiLeaks rose to fame, it was hailed as a computer genius and libertarian messiah. “The most dangerous man in the world”, was the title of a biography of him.
But the criticism quickly mounted. Old friends and collaborators described him as “self-centered”, “obsessive” and “paranoid”.
“The man who boasts of revealing the world’s secrets can’t stand his own,” said Andrew O’Hagan, who was asked to write a biography of Assange and ended up throwing in the towel.
– “Determined” and “committed” –
But others, like the veteran Australian journalist Mary Kostakidis, who visited him at the Ecuadorian legation in 2013 and in the London jail in 2019, say he is “the opposite of a narcissist.”
He is a man “with principles, very determined, very committed to the project,” he assured the Sunday Morning Herald newspaper two years ago, implying, as others have already done and despite the lack of a formal diagnosis, that he may suffer Asperger syndrome, a type of autism that affects social relationships.
Its defenders include celebrities such as the American actress Pamela Anderson, the British designer Vivienne Westwood, the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis or the rocker Roger Waters.
During his years at the Ecuadorian embassy, where he denounces that all his movements were spied on, he secretly had two children with the South African lawyer Stella Morris, whom he married last March.
Assange has at least one other son, Daniel, in his 30s.