UN group: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is being ‘arbitrarily detained’ – CNN
On Friday, he called the U.N. panel’s judgment “legally binding,” though others — including the UK and Swedish governments — don’t think so. The U.N. working group characterized the decision as a “moral recommendation.”
Melinda Taylor, one of Assange’s attorneys, said the ruling was “a damning indictment of the manner in which this case has been handled (and) affirms that Mr. Assange is a victim of a significant miscarriage of justice.”
“Now finally with today’s decision,” Taylor said, “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Fears possible extradition to U.S.
Assange fled to the safe confines of Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012. Ecuador granted him political asylum and, as with other diplomatic missions around the world, its embassy is considered sovereign territory.
Since there is still a European Arrest Warrant out for him, according to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, his options are to stay inside the embassy or leave and face arrest and get put on a plane to Sweden.
The rape allegation isn’t the only one looming over Assange. He fears an even bigger punishment should Sweden extradite him to the United States.
But is he already being detained now? The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention believes as much, accusing both Sweden and the UK of depriving him of his liberty and freedom of movement by putting him in such a precarious situation.
‘Mr. Assange is free to leave’
Not so fast, Sweden and the UK say.
Both countries released statements shortly after the U.N. announcement condemning the ruling.
“Mr. Assange has chosen, voluntarily, to stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy and Swedish authorities have no control over his decision to stay there,” the Swedish government said in a statement. “Mr. Assange is free to leave the embassy at any point. Thus, he is not being deprived of his liberty there due to any decision or action taken by the Swedish authorities.”
Assange had said in advance of Friday’s announcement that he’d walk out of the embassy and “accept arrest” if the panel found against him.
“However, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully,” Assange said, “I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me.”
But there is no assurance that will happen — in fact, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Friday that the U.N. group’s ruling “changes nothing.”
“We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention,” it said in a statement. “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 him to Sweden.”