A United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention panel has ruled in favor of whistleblower Julian Assange stating that his stay in Ecuadorian embassy is an “arbitrary detention,” the agency announced Friday. The UNWGAD finding stated Assange was subjected to “different forms of deprivation of liberty” and that the WikiLeaks founder is entitled to compensation.
Assange sought refuge in the embassy in London in June 2012 after Swedish officials demanded his extradition for interrogation over sexual assault allegations. The 44-year-old has not been charged with any offense in the case, and has denied the allegations.
UNWGAD “requested Sweden and the United Kingdom to assess the situation of Assange to ensure his safety and physical integrity, to facilitate the exercise of his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner, and to ensure the full enjoyment of his rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention. The Working Group also considered that the detention should be brought to an end and that Assange should be afforded the right to compensation,” the group said in a statement.
The panel stated that Assange’s detention was arbitrary because he was held in isolation at a U.K. prison for 10 days in December 2010 as Sweden continued investigation against him and he was then put under house arrest for 550 days following an international arrest warrant. The group also noted that a Swedish prosecutor’s “lack of diligence” in the inquiry resulted in Assange’s “lengthy detention.”
The U.K. announced Friday that it will formally contest UNWGAD’s decision on Assange. It said the government was “deeply frustrated” with the opinion and accused Assange of avoiding lawful arrest by holing up in the Ecuadorian embassy.
“This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention. The UK has already made clear to the UN that we will formally contest the working group’s opinion … We are deeply frustrated that this unacceptable situation is still being allowed to continue. ,” the British government said, in a statement.
On a similar note, the Swedish government Friday dismissed the group’s conclusions on the Australian stating that Assange’s stay in the embassy was an “unlawful detention.” "Swedish authorities have no control over his decision to stay there. Mr. Assange is free to leave the Embassy at any point," the government said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Although the panel's findings are not legally binding, they can be used to pressure the government in human rights cases. Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson, told the Guardian that the only solution for the Swedish prosecutor seeking Assange’s extradition “is to immediately release him and drop the case.”
Assange’s lawyers also sought assurances from the U.K. that Assange would not be arrested and he would not have to face a second grand jury investigation in the U.S. even if Swedish prosecution were to be dropped, the Guardian reported. Assange is wanted in the U.S. for leaking sensitive diplomatic information in November 2010 and could face official secrecy and espionage charges. He has maintained that Sweden would extradite him to the U.S. over the leak.
Melinda Taylor, a legal spokeswoman for Assange, reportedly said they had “every reason to believe” that the U.S. would seek Assange’s extradition. “If one of the orders is that he should be released and his liberty should be assured, we would obviously look to the UK to make sure that it is effective and not illusory — that it’s not just liberty for five seconds, but liberty that is meaningful,” Taylor said.
Assange is expected to hold a a press conference via videolink later Friday to seek the U.K. and Sweden's assurance against his arrest and extradition.