The UK and Sweden should end Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s deprivation of liberty, a UN legal panel has said.
Mr Assange, 44 – who faces extradition to Sweden over a rape claim, which he denies – claimed asylum in London’s Ecuadorean embassy in 2012.
The UN’s panel said Mr Assange is being arbitrarily detained by the UK.
Prosecutors in Sweden had said the UN panel’s decision would have “no formal impact” on its investigation and UK police said he still faces arrest.
In September 2014, Mr Assange – who has been living in the embassy for more than three years – complained to the UN that he was being “arbitrarily detained” as he could not leave without being arrested.
The complaint against the UK and Sweden claimed Mr Assange had been “deprived of his liberty in an arbitrary manner for an unacceptable length of time”.
The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has been investigating the issue.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday, Mr Assange said his passport should be returned and his arrest warrant dropped if the UN panel ruled in his favour.
Downing Street said the panel’s ruling would not be legally binding in the UK and a European Arrest Warrant remained in place.
“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 Ecuadorean embassy,” a spokesman said.
“The UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden.”
The Swedish foreign ministry said in a statement that it noted the UN panel’s decision “differs from that of the Swedish authorities”.
‘Avoiding lawful arrest’
The Australian was originally arrested in London in 2010 under a European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden over rape and sexual assault claims.
In 2012, while on bail, he claimed asylum inside the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge after the UK Supreme Court had ruled the extradition against him could go ahead.
Swedish prosecutors dropped two sex assault claims against Mr Assange last year. However, he still faces the more serious accusation of rape.
In the statement, published by Wikileaks on Thursday, Mr Assange said: “Should the UN announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police 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.”
Last October, Scotland Yard said it would no longer station officers outside the Ecuador embassy following an operation which it said had cost £12.6m. But it said “a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him” would still be deployed.
Julian Assange: Key dates
- August 2010 – Swedish prosecutors issue an arrest warrant for Mr Assange
- May 2012 – UK Supreme Court rules he should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning
- June 2012 – Mr Assange claims asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London
- September 2014 – Mr Assange submits complaint against Sweden and the UK to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
- August 2015 – Swedish prosecutors drop their investigation into two allegations – one of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion – but say he still faces the more serious accusation of rape.
- October 2015 – Met Police announce officers will no longer be stationed outside the Ecuadorean embassy