WikiLeaks’ founder has been stuck in Ecuador’s London embassy for six years and cut off from accessing the internet for six months. Those circumstances have made it difficult for him to do the job of running WikiLeaks and the organization announced on Thursday that Assange will step aside as its editor-in-chief.
WikiLeaks tweeted the announcement this afternoon, saying that Icelandic journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson will take over Assange’s editorial duties. Hrafnsson worked in various capacities for WikiLeaks between 2009 and 2016, with his last official role being that of a spokesperson. Assange will continue to have the title of publisher, meaning he’ll still oversee managerial functions and guide the publication’s direction. WikiLeaks quoted Hrafnsson, saying, “I condemn the treatment of Julian Assange that leads to my new role but I welcome the opportunity to secure the continuation of the important work based on WikiLeaks ideals.”
Assange has resided in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012. He was granted asylum by the government of President Rafael Correa. At the time, Ecuador said it believed Assange’s claims that his life was in danger due to his publication of leaked private and classified information involving the U.S. government and some of the most powerful people in the world. He cannot leave the embassy without being arrested by authorities in the UK on charges related to his skipping bail in 2012.
Since then, WikiLeaks’ credibility has been harmed with some of its biggest supporters over its involvement in distributing hacked emails from the DNC and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Political winds were also changing in Ecuador and its newest president, Lenín Moreno, hasn’t been as sympathetic to Assange’s situation as his predecessor.
The Associated Press spoke to Moreno on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Thursday and he acknowledged that Assange has been prohibited from using the internet because of his continued activities that antagonize other nations. “I understand that currently he has no access (to the internet) to stop him from doing that again,” Moreno told the AP. “But if Mr Assange promises to stop emitting opinions on the politics of friendly nations like Spain or the United States then we have no problem with him going online.”
It remains to be seen if Assange’s new role at WikiLeaks will satisfy Ecuadorian authorities’ concerns. Moreno also said that his government is working with Britain to negotiate Assange’s release sometime in “the medium term.”