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WikiLeaks replaces Julian Assange as its editor-in-chief

Document-leaking site says it's been unable to communicate with its self-exiled founder for six months.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addresses the media from the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador in London in 2017.

Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Julian Assange, who has served as WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief since he founded the document-leaking site in 2006, has been replaced as the site's top editor.

WikiLeaks, in a tweet announcing the appointment of a new editor, cited the organization's inability to communicate with Assange for the past six months as the reason behind the move. Kristinn Hrafnsson, a journalist from Iceland, will become the site's new top editor, but Assange will remain its publisher, WikiLeaks said Wednesday.

Assange has been holed up in a small room in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for more than six years, initially entering it to avoid extradition for a rape charge in Sweden. The country dropped that charge but he's still facing a UK charge of skipping bail.

The UK maintains that Assange's exile is self-imposed, and in February a judge upheld a warrant for his arrest. But Ecuadorian officials have apparently grown weary of Assange's presence in the embassy, saying in January that his situation is "not sustainable."

Assange -- a frequent Twitter user -- lost his internet privileges in March when the Ecuadorian government said he violated an agreement with the country not to interfere in its relations with other countries.

Assange is concerned that if he leaves the embassy the US may also seek to extradite him on espionage charges. Last year, the US Justice Department was reportedly considering filing criminal charges against WikiLeaks and Assange in connection with the 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents.

Over the past 12 years, WikiLeaks says it's released more than 10 million secret government documents through its website. The leaks range from a video showing an American Apache helicopter in the Iraq War shooting and killing two journalists, to emails from the Democratic National Committee exposing alleged misconduct during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Justice Department under former President Barack Obama declined to press charges for revealing the sensitive secrets, concluding that WikiLeaks was working in a capacity akin to journalism. But the case was never formally closed, and the Justice Department under President Donald Trump has signaled a willingness to take another look at the case.

In June, an international group of lawyers appealed to the UN's Human Rights Council regarding concerns that Assange's protracted confinement is having a severe impact on his physical and mental health.

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