POLITICS

A Guide To The Eccentric Cast Of Characters Surrounding Julian Assange

The WikiLeaks founder's supporters range from Ecuador's former president to actress Pamela Anderson.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has alienated and infuriated a lot of people over the years, not least the British and U.S. authorities that oversaw his arrest and indictment last week.

But he’s also managed to accumulate an eccentric group of close friends and supporters, and many of these folks are back in the news as Assange faces extradition to the U.S. on a charge of computer hacking related to WikiLeaks obtaining classified military documents in 2010.

As Assange’s longtime confidantes call for his release, here is a look at the cast of characters surrounding the anti-privacy activist.

Chelsea Manning

Although Assange and Manning have never met in person, the two have a significant history that goes back to 2010. Manning, then a private in the U.S. Army, downloaded classified military information early that year and uploaded it to the WikiLeaks site. Assange then contacted Manning and the two began a frequent correspondence that resulted in Manning sending WikiLeaks a trove of additional classified documents that included diplomatic cables and war reports from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Manning pleaded guilty in 2013 to a variety of charges related to the leak, including espionage. In her statement of guilt, Manning detailed how she and Assange ― who was using the pseudonym Nathaniel Frank ― would message on a near-daily basis as they worked together and developed a friendship. But Manning said she later realized that in retrospect their friendly conversations were artificial and that she valued them more than Assange.

Manning, who was released from prison in 2017, is now back in jail after refusing a subpoena to testify to a grand jury that is investigating WikiLeaks.

Rafael Correa

Correa, who served as Ecuador’s president from 2007 to 2017, was one of Assange’s most powerful protectors while he was in office. Correa granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to Assange in 2012, setting up a protracted fight with British and U.S. officials who sought to extradite him.

Although Correa defended Assange’s asylum as a matter of press freedom and human rights, many critics pointed out Correa’s own intimidation of the media in Ecuador as proof that his embrace of Assange was more of a political ploy to gain domestic support by defying the U.S. and Britain.

Correa consistently defended Assange throughout his presidency, but his successor, Lenin Moreno, was far less sympathetic to Assange’s plight. Moreno ultimately grew tired of defending Assange and decided to give the WikiLeaks founder up to British authorities. Correa, meanwhile, remains a vocal supporter of Assange and called Moreno the “greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history” for allowing his arrest.

Pamela Anderson

Former “Baywatch” star and animal rights activist Pamela Anderson is one of Assange’s most famous and vocal supporters. She visited him multiple times during his asylum in London, blogged about him and lauded his work in interviews.

Anderson met Assange through mutual friend and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, and reporters first noticed her visiting the embassy in 2014. Their meetings were an easy tabloid target, and there was widespread media speculation that they had begun a romantic relationship. Anderson declined to elaborate on the specifics their relationship, but has said she saw him frequently and the two were extremely close.

“Julian Assange is the most intelligent, interesting, and informed man in existence. Yes — I think he’s quite sexy,” Anderson wrote in a poem on her blog in 2017.

Anderson is a frequent defender of Assange, both against a Swedish woman’s allegation that he raped her in 2010 and the criminal charges he faces. After his arrest last week, Anderson tweeted heated criticisms of the U.K., the U.S. and Ecuador for their roles in Assange’s arrest.

Vaughan Smith

British police arrested Assange in 2010 after Swedish authorities announced they wanted to extradite the WikiLeaks founder for questioning after two women accused Assange of sex crimes. When Assange was released on bail, however, wealthy libertarian and video journalist Vaughn Smith offered him residence at his sprawling manor while the courts heard Assange’s extradition appeal.

Assange took refuge at Smith’s for several months in 2011, before he sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London a year later. Smith is a former British army officer who founded the Frontline Club, a gathering place for media figures in London where Assange often hung out and took temporary residence before his legal troubles escalated.

Since Assange’s arrest, Smith has done a round of media appearances criticizing the Ecuadorian officials for ending their protection and calling for his friend’s release.  

Kristinn Hrafnsson

Hrafnsson, a spokesperson for WikiLeaks since 2010, became the site’s editor-in-chief last year after Assange’s internet privileges were revoked at the Ecuadorian embassy. Hrafnsson was an investigative journalist in Iceland and joined up with WikiLeaks after the anti-secrecy organization gained support in his home country following its exposure of an Icelandic banking scandal.

After Assange’s arrest in 2010, Hrafnsson took on a greater role at WikiLeaks as the site’s primary media contact. As his official title has changed over the years, he’s been a staunch ally of Assange and vowed in recent days to continue WikiLeaks’ work regardless of how the charges facing its founder play out.

Jennifer Robinson

Robinson has been Assange’s personal lawyer since early 2010, months before WikiLeaks gained international recognition for publishing Manning’s stolen documents. Robinson is an Australian human rights lawyer and Rhodes scholar who previously worked as a legal advocate for the rights of West Papuan people in Indonesia.

Since Assange’s arrest in 2010 and throughout his subsequent legal troubles, Robinson has been one of the WikiLeaks founder’s most prominent defenders and repeatedly condemned U.S. attempts at extradition as an attack on free speech and press freedom.

Baltasar Garzon has been a longtime legal advocate for Assange.

Baltasar Garzon

Another figure in Assange’s legal team is Spanish former judge Baltasar Garzon, who defended the WikiLeaks founder in his extradition battles and fights with the Ecuadorian embassy over the terms of his asylum.

Garzon had a long and prominent legal career before helping Assange, including writing an international arrest warrant for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. But Garzon ran into legal trouble himself after Spain’s Supreme Court disbarred him for 11 years in 2012 because he had illegally recorded conversations between defense lawyers and clients.

Garzon joined up with Assange months after being disbarred and has worked with him continuously in the years since. In 2018, Garzon took the lead in attempting to get Assange’s internet access restored at the embassy, as well as challenging Ecuador’s demands that he pay for his phone calls and clean up after his pet cat.

Garzon is involved in Assange’s legal defense following his recent arrest and indictment, saying his client is the target of “political persecution.”

Stefania Maurizi

Maurizi is an Italian journalist for the newspaper La Repubblica who has corresponded with WikiLeaks on its document releases since 2009. During Assange’s time in the Ecuadorian embassy, Maurizi visited him frequently, publishing exclusive interviews and reports on his conditions. When British authorities dragged Assange from the embassy last week, Maurizi noticed that he was still gripping a Gore Vidal book that she had brought him as a gift.

Maurizi has also pursued freedom of information cases against British authorities, seeking the release of documents related to Assange’s extradition. Her challenges forced a British tribunal to recognize WikiLeaks as a media organization, as well as exposed that U.K. authorities destroyed key emails with Swedish authorities related to Assange’s case.

Sarah Harrison

Harrison is a British-born editor for WikiLeaks who began working with the organization in 2010 as a researcher tasked with vetting Manning’s documents. She also began a romantic relationship with Assange around that time, according to The Washington Post, although Harrison declined to comment on those reports. Harrison rose to become a key figure in WikiLeaks, often appearing alongside Assange in court and taking a role on his legal defense team.

Before WikiLeaks, Harrison was a research intern with the non-profit Center for Investigative Journalism in London. Her connection to WikiLeaks began when Assange approached the center for help creating an archive of leaked documents and Harrison volunteered for the role. She also gained international attention in 2013 for helping get whistleblower Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong as U.S. authorities pursued his arrest.