A UN panel has ruled that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was under a three-and-a-half years “arbitrary detention” while holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Julian Assange sought sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual accusations which he vehemently denies. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will announce its findings of the investigation into Assange’s “arbitrary detention” on Friday after the Wikileaks founder filed a complaint in 2014. The London Metropolitan Police could arrest the journalist if he leaves the embassy.
The Guardian reports:
The WikiLeaks founder sought asylum from Ecuador in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations, which he denies.
The panel’s findings were disclosed to the Swedish and British governments on 22 January, and will be published on Friday morning. Their judgment is not legally binding but can be used to apply pressure on states in human rights cases.
Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson, said if the working group found in his favour, “there is only one solution for Marianne Ny [the Swedish prosecutor seeking Assange’s extradition], and that is to immediately release him and drop the case”. Samuelson added: “If he is regarded as detained, that means he has served his time, so I see no other option for Sweden but to close the case.”
Assange’s lawyers also demanded assurances from the UK that he would not be arrested and subjected to potential extradition to face potential prosecution over WikiLeaks’ publishing activities.
The British Foreign Office said it would not pre-empt the panel’s findings, but said in a statement: “We have been consistently clear that Mr Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorian embassy.
“An allegation of rape is still outstanding and a European arrest warrant in place, so the UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden.”
Anna Ekberg, a spokesperson for the Swedish foreign ministry, said it would not comment before the formal publication on Friday. The Swedish prosecutor is currently on holiday and unavailable for comment, a spokesman said.
In a statement issued by WikiLeaks on Twitter, Assange said he would voluntarily walk out of the embassy on Friday and accept arrest “as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal”.
“However, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me.”
Neither Sweden nor the UK will be compelled to take any action, but a source familiar with the working group said that if the governments choose to ignore the decision, it could make it difficult for them in future to bring pressure on other countries over human rights violations.
Assange had appealed to the UN panel claiming that his stay in the embassy was arbitrary because he had been unable to exercise his right to asylum, arguing: “The only way for Mr Assange to enjoy is right to asylum is to be in detention. This is not a legally acceptable choice.”
He also argued that UK law had been changed since 2012, which meant if arrested today he would no longer be liable to extradition under the European Arrest Warrant.
Melinda Taylor, an Assange legal spokeswoman, said the Australian had not yet been formally informed by the panel of its findings, but “if it finds that the standard for arbitrary detention is met, we would expect his release and compensation”.