A UN panel has concluded that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012.
After a year of delegating within the panel, the ruling will be officially announced on Friday that the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is in favor of Mr. Assange’s claim that he has been arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian embassy because he would be arrested if he left. The ruling comes after years of the UK denying that Assange was being detained at all, claiming that he was “voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest,” said a spokeswoman from the British Foreign Office.
Assange applied for political asylum in Ecuador while in London in June of 2012, after the UK Supreme Court ruled that Assange be extradited to Sweden where he faced two sexual assault allegations and one rape allegation. His asylum was granted by Ecuador in August of that year, but the UK stated that they would not grant him “safe passage” to travel to Ecuador and that if he left the embassy, he would be swiftly arrested and extradited. This has caused Assange to maintain his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past three years.
Since then, Sweden has dropped the two sexual assault charges only because the allowable amount of time to question and prosecute him has run out. The assault accusations were made several days after the alleged dates of the assaults, and only after the two women had spoken with each other and a journalist about their intimate experience with Mr. Assange. An arrest warrant was issued for the serious allegation of rape, then withdrawn the next day because the chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, did not find “reason to suspect he has committed rape.” The warrant was issued again and the rape allegation was reopened per the Swedish Director of Prosecution’s request, marking the true start of Assange’s uncertain fate.
Though the UN has already informed the involved countries, Sweden and Great Britain, of their decision, neither has adjusted their plans to take legal action against Assange if he should leave the embassy. The UK maintains that they are still legally bound to extradite Assange to uphold the Supreme Court decision, should Sweden still have a European Arrest Warrant against him. Sweden denies any plan to drop the charges against Assange, although Per Samuelsson, Assange’s lawyer, said that it would be “morally” wrong for Sweden to ignore the ruling of UN and continue with their investigation anyways.
The only change in action on the part of either country is Britain’s end to the 24/7 guards posted outside the embassy, warning Assange that if he steps out of the embassy, they are in their legal right to arrest him. The guards were there for three years before Metropolitan Police decided that the effort was “no longer believed proportionate”. The lack of guards does not mean that they will not arrest Assange if he leaves; there is still 24/7 surveillance on the building, should Assange ever attempt to leave.
With the UN ruling, Julian Assange’s problems are far from over. On top of the fact that neither country has agreed to stop all legal actions against Assange, he fears that if he were to be extradited to Sweden for questioning that he might also be eventually extradited to the US for charges of espionage related to his work with WikiLeaks. It is rumored that his reason for finally filing a formal complaint with the UN to gain his freedom is more closely linked to health problems he has suffered from since 2012. If this were to be true, his inability to safely and freely leave the premises of the embassy could be damaging to his health as the years go on.
Assange’s most recent correspondence regarding his situation was on February 3rd via Twitter, where he stated what he would do should the UN rule in his favor or not. If they ruled against him, he would exit the embassy at noon on Friday and accept his arrest and extradition, and if they ruled in his favor, he demanded that his passport be returned and any attempts to arrest him be terminated.