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'Victory and Vindication': Julian Assange Slams UK Response to UN Ruling

The UK and Sweden have wholeheartedly rejected a ruling by the United Nations that the Wikileaks founder is a victim of arbitrary detention.
Des soutiens d'Assange devant l'ambassade de l'Équateur, le 4 février dernier à Londres. Photo par Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Julian Assange has insisted the UK and Sweden must respect the United Nations ruling that he has been unlawfully detained, formally announced on Friday.

"We have now a victory, and decided law on this case," he said via video link at a press conference following the publication of the ruling by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The outcome of the ruling was a "vindication" that had brought a smile to his face, he said.


UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had earlier described the ruling as "ridiculous," which Assange called "insulting." The ruling was legally binding, he said: "The time for appeal is over."

Britain and Sweden have rejected the panel's opinion that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention, with the UK government saying he will be arrested if he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy where he has been living for three and a half years.

"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," a British government spokesman said.

"He is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy," the spokesman said. "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."

The UN Panel on Arbitrary Detention formally ruled on Friday that "the various forms of deprivation of liberty" Assange had experienced — an initial period of remand at London's Wandsworth Prison in 2010, followed by house arrest and his time at the embassy — mounted to arbitrary detention, a decision taken after more than a year considering a complaint that the computer hacker filed to the working group in September 2014.


It also found a "lack of diligence" by the Swedish authorities in how it had dealt with Assange's case and said he should be granted compensation.

Three of the panel's five members ruled in Assange's favor, one dissented and one did not take part, in a decision that is not legally binding on the UK and Swedish governments but that does place pressure on them.

Related: A UN Panel Has Just 'Ruled in Favor' of Julian Assange

Assange is wanted for questioning over a rape allegation in Sweden — but he believes the accusation is a ruse and that once he goes there he will be extradited to the US where a Grand Jury investigation is underway over his Wikileaks activities.

He walked into the Ecuadorean embassy in August 2012 after applying for political asylum which he was later granted. He has never been charged and had offered to be questioned inside the embassy by Swedish prosecutors.

The UN group "maintains that the arbitrary detention of Mr Assange should be brought to an end, that his physical integrity and freedom of movement be respected," said its head, Seong-Phil Hong, in a statement.

The Swedish government echoed the UK's opinion that Assange could not be a victim of arbitrary detention given that he chose to live in the embassy and was free to walk out at any time. His situation should not even have been considered by the panel, it said, given there was no deprivation of liberty and and issues of extradition and asylum did not fall under the group's mandate.


"Mr Assange has chosen, voluntarily, to stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy and Swedish authorities have not control over his decision to stay there," it said. "Mr Assange is free to leave the Embassy at at any point. Thus, he is not being deprived of his liberty due to any decision or action taken by the Swedish authorities. The government there refutes the opinion of the working group."

In a three-page letter the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs also stressed it would not extradite Assange to the US if such a move fell foul of international law. "In any case, no request for extradition regarding Mr. Assange has been directed to Sweden," it said.

In a statement published by Wikileaks on Thursday Assange said he would leave the embassy at midday on Friday and "accept arrest" if the panel ruled against him.

"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," he said.

Follow Miriam Wells on Twitter: @missmbc

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