A heroic campaigner for democratic openness, or an alleged criminal trying to avoid justice: after a decade in the limelight, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains a highly polarising figure.
The 47-year-old Australian, who now faces the reopening of a 2010 rape investigation against him in Sweden, is already in prison in Britain for breach of bail conditions.
He was arrested by British police at Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he had been holed up since 2012, after the Ecuadorian government withdrew his asylum.
Assange has always denied the Swedish allegations, saying they were politically motivated and expressing fears of a plot to transfer him to the United States to be tried there.
The US has now submitted a formal request for his extradition on a charge of computer hacking.
At the time the Swedish sexual assault claims were first made 2010, Assange was the frontman of whistleblowing website WikiLeaks as it exposed government secrets worldwide, with particular focus on the US.
Transparency and anti-war campaigners hailed his work revealing the deaths of civilians, torture and clandestine military operations with the release of 500,000 US documents on the Iraq and Afghan wars.
But the United States and its allies accused him of risking lives by sharing information on sources, intelligence techniques and key infrastructure sites.
Following his arrest, WikiLeaks said that “powerful actors, including the CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimize and imprison him”.
Ties with Russia?
Assange was initially supported by human rights groups and newspapers that once worked with him to edit and publish the war logs.
But many were also horrified when WikiLeaks dumped the documents unredacted online, including the names of informants.
When in 2016 a UN panel declared that Assange had been detained arbitrarily, one of his previous media partners, The Guardian, dismissed the idea and said he should face justice.
There have since been questions about his relationship with Russia, with WikiLeaks identified in independent prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into interference in the 2016 US election.
Mueller found that Russian government actors hacked White House hopeful Hillary Clinton’s campaign “and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks”.
War logs exposed
Born in Townsville, Queensland, in 1971, Assange has described a nomadic childhood and claims to have attended 37 schools before settling in Melbourne.
As a teenager, he discovered a talent for computer hacking, and although he has pleaded guilty to 25 such offences, he has only ever walked away with fines.
He created WikiLeaks in 2006 with a group of like-minded activists and IT experts, to provide a secure way for whistleblowers to leak information.
A confident speaker, he became its figurehead — and a lightning rod for criticism.
The most damaging leaks emerged in 2010, beginning with a video showing a US military Apache helicopter firing on and killing two journalists and several Iraqi civilians on a Baghdad street in 2007.
It was followed by more than 90,000 classified US military files from the Afghan war, 400,000 from Iraq, and in November that year, around 250,000 US diplomatic cables covering almost every country in the world.
Living in a space station
He was arrested in Britain in December 2010 and a judge ordered his extradition to Sweden. The claims were later dropped but Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson on Monday said there was “still probable cause to suspect that Mr Assange committed rape”.
At the time of the first judicial battle, Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa, said Assange’s human rights could be at risk and offered him refuge at his country’s embassy,
Assange compared his embassy stay to living in a space station — he exercised on a treadmill and used a sun lamp to make up for the lack of natural light.
Correa’s successor Lenin Moreno was less patient and accused Assange of interfering in foreign affairs.
Assange’s supporters said it had become a “Truman-show type situation”, accusing Ecuador of gathering thousands of photographs and videos from inside the embassy.
After seven years, Assange was finally arrested on April 11.