In today’s world, politics have seemingly seeped into every corner of society; from social media to literature to even the arts, the political spectrum has become an inescapable part of everyday life. Sure, it’s easy to turn off FOX News or scroll past CNN headlines, but when these issues begin affecting the unpolitical aspects of our lives, that’s when we start paying attention.
While political scandals usually remain solely in the realm of politics, the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange brought unexpected consequences for a certain internationally beloved pet. With uncertainty surrounding both of their fates, people can’t help but ask — what in the world happened to Julian Assange’s cat?
On August 20, 2010, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Julian Assange on the grounds of sexual assault. According to his accusers, the Australian native overstepped the established level of consent and turned their encounters nonconsensual.
Assange denied the claims outright, stating that they were “without basis” and that their appearance “at this moment is deeply disturbing.” After some deliberation, Eva Finne, Stockholm’s chief prosecutor, subsequently called to have the arrest warrant withdrawn.
However, after Assange was questioned by police in Stockholm and informed of the allegations against him, Swedish Director of Prosecution Marianne Nye reopened the investigation on September 1st.
By the time Nye’s request to detain Assange was approved, the WikiLeaks founder had fled to the UK. After Assange refused to return to Sweden, the Swedish police issued an international warrant for his arrest via Interpol.
On December 8, Assange gave himself up to British police, though he was out on bail just a week later. His relief was short lived, however, as following a year of court battles and appeals, the British Supreme Court ruled that Assange should be extradited to Sweden.
But Assange wasn’t going to go away without a fight, and on June 19, 2012, the WikiLeaks founder applied for political asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London. Ecuador, fearing that Assange’s human rights might be violated were he extradited to Sweden, approved his request a month later.
For the next four years, Ecuador and the UK engaged in a heated back-and-forth over the freedom of Julian Assange. All the while, Assange remained holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, though for most of these years he had a very special friend at his side…
In May of 2016, Assange brought a new guest to the embassy — Michi, a gray tabby kitten. The WikiLeaks founder was quick to introduce his new companion to his thousands of online followers, and soon the adorable pet came to be known as “Embassy Cat.”
From the moment he arrived at the embassy, “Michi” tweeted and posted cute photos on Instagram with regularity, always sure to include a cat pun or two in every caption (though “Michi” was never shy about poking fun at Assange’s political rivals).
Yet despite the seemingly innocent motivations behind Assange’s online personality for his cat, those close to him knew better. According to a 2017 article by The New Yorker, he was more concerned with building his brand than actually caring for his animal.
“Julian stared at the cat for about half an hour, trying to figure out how it could be useful, and then came up with this: Yeah, let’s say it’s from my children,” said one of Assange’s friends. Whether that was true remained unclear.
But the friend continued. “For a time, he said it didn’t have a name because there was a competition in Ecuador, with schoolchildren, on what to name him. Everything is P.R. — everything.”
This belief became even more prevalent in October of 2018 when Assange – who was still residing at the embassy – was given a set of “house rules” regarding Michi, which included him taking better care of the cat’s “well-being, food and hygiene.” If not, the embassy threatened to take Michi to a shelter.
During this tumultuous time, Embassy Cat’s online presence dwindled, tweeting only three times in 2017 and just twice in 2018. People were understandably concerned about Michi, but in April of 2019, the cat’s fate grew more uncertain.
After seven years of housing Assange, Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, expelled the WikiLeaks founder from the London embassy on April 11th, citing Assange’s repeated violation of international conventions as the cause.
No sooner did Assange step foot outside the embassy that the Met Police took him into custody. Those who followed the event were eager to learn of Assange’s impending fate, though even then, one glaring question still remained — where was Michi?
But Hanna Jonasson, a member of Assange’s legal team, refuted this claim, saying that Assange wouldn’t have let Embassy Cat go to the pound. “He asked his lawyers to take his cat to safety,” Jonasson tweeted. “The cat is with Assange’s family. They will be reunited in freedom.”
Italian newspaper la Repubblica supported this, though they claimed Michi hadn’t been at the embassy since November of 2018. “Assange… preferred to spare the cat an isolation, which [had] become unbearable and [allowed] it a healthier life,” the paper wrote.
When questioned about the whereabouts of the cat, the Ecuadorian Embassy refused to comment, though a spokesman later confirmed to Sputnik that the cat hadn’t been with them since the fall. “It was taken by Mr. Assange’s associates,” the spokesman said.
As of April 2019, Michi’s whereabouts remained a mystery, though thousands out there waited with bated breath for an update on their beloved Embassy Cat. Until then, cat lovers of the world turned their attentions to another mysterious cat — more specifically, a pair of them…
You can find these cats in Japan’s Hiroshima Prefecture, surrounded by the region’s signature cherry blossoms, at the Onomichi City Museum of Art. The museum is known for showcasing artwork that highlights the natural beauty of Japan… and its cat problem.
See, painters Wasaku Kobayashi and Wada Eisaku naturalist styles have drawn thousands to the small gallery. But even for all its popularity, it was one famous artist’s work that really put the museum on the map…
Mitsuaki Iwagō is renowned for his wildlife photography. So when the celebrated cameraman announced he’d be opening an exhibit at the Onomichi, the art world flocked to see his latest masterpiece firsthand.
The collection was titled Cats, and, unsurprisingly, the photos depicted the candid moments of furry felines all over Japan. It was an immediate success, but no one expected a museum visitor would wind up being the biggest draw!
On a summer’s day in 2016, the security guard stationed at the door of the Onomichi was greeted by an unusual visitor: a black cat. Since the museum was located in the heart of a park, the guard assumed the little guy was simply a curious stray.
But when a guest triggered the building’s sliding doors, the seemingly innocent cat attempted to dash inside behind them! The guard was amused, but since the museum had a strict no-pet policy, he plopped him back outside.
“I’m guessing that [the cat] spotted some of the exhibits through the glass, and since the photos included those of black cats, he must have thought he had found a new friend,” said the museum’s curator, Shinji Umebayashi. “And then he just kept coming back.”
Puzzled by their unusual guest, museum staff did some digging and discovered that the cat – named Ken-chan – belonged to the owner of a nearby restaurant. Ken-chan began returning to the gallery almost every single day.
The cat would show up at the front door, attempt to enter, and quickly be placed right back outside. Staff and visitors alike marveled at the playful routine, baffled by Ken-chan’s determination to enter the museum.
Word began to spread of this adorable game of cat-and-mouse between Ken-chan and the Onomichi security guard, and pretty soon crowds gathered just to see the resilient cat’s efforts. Nothing was working! So it was time for Ken-chan to get creative…
The next time Ken-chan showed up, the staff was surprised to find he’d brought a friend. The orange tabby was another local cat, and it appeared Ken-chan convinced him that, when it came to getting into the museum, two heads were better than one.
Just like Ken-chan, the orange cat began returning almost daily, both alone and with his buddy at his side. And though the staff took to him as they had Ken-chan, their newest feline friend – whom they dubbed “Go-chan” – was also denied entry into the gallery.
The story of these cats and their efforts soon became a viral sensation. Some online users implored the Onomichi to let the cats inside, while the vast majority of others were content to tune into the museum’s regular updates on the dynamic duo.
Since then, the popularity of the two cats has grown to become so great that the Onomichi has put out a line of souvenirs in honor of their unofficial mascots. Ken-chan and Go-chan have even inspired artwork of their own!
Even after years of futile attempts, both cats continue to return day after day, likely hoping that their newfound fame – and adorable looks – will earn them entrance. Until that happens, they’re content to enjoy the museum’s grounds.
“The museum is in a park, so there’s no traffic to worry about,” said Umebayashi. “[The cats] treat the park like it’s their own garden.” However, the pair might have to take a day off from their mission for one very special purpose…
Earlier this year, officials from the Russian resort community of Zelenogradsk invited Ken-chan, Go-chan, and the Onomichi staff to be their guests at an upcoming cat-centric holiday celebration. This seemed like the perfect place for the felines to take a well-deserved vacation.
While it’s unlikely that the Onomichi will break policy even for their most honored “guests,” the story of Ken-chan and Go-chan will continue to delight animal lovers for years to come. And besides: why pay to see a few photographs when the real stars are waiting just outside?
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