LONDON: The British and Swedish governments have rejected a United Nations ruling urging them to allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to go free.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released its decision on the Assange case on Friday, urging the UK and Sweden to end the 44-year-old Australian’s ‘deprivation of liberty’ and restore his freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation.
But Britain says the ruling changes nothing.
It says an arrest warrant is still in place and it still has an obligation to extradite him to Sweden if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been holed up since 2012.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond branded the UN’s report ‘ridiculous’ and said Assange is a ‘fugitive from justice’.
Assange sought asylum in the embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden over sexual assault allegations.
He fears if he is extradited to Sweden he will be sent on to the US to face an espionage case against him over WikiLeaks’ release of top secret military documents.
The UN expert panel noted that Assange had not been formally charged.
But both governments say he has stayed in the Ecuadorian embassy voluntarily and the extradition process remains valid.
UN expert panel head Seong-Phil Hong said in a statement that ‘the various forms of deprivation of liberty to which Julian Assange has been subjected constitute a form of arbitrary detention’.
Over a five-year period Assange was detained in London’s Wandsworth Prison, followed by house arrest and the confinement at the Ecuadorian embassy.
The panel also found he suffered a ‘lengthy loss of liberty’ as the result of a lack of diligence by the Swedish prosecutor’s office.
The panel ruled that Assange’s detention violated articles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Melinda Taylor, one of Assange’s legal team, said the UK and Sweden had ‘explicitly ratified’ the conventions under which the UN panel worked, ‘so they really should accept its result unless they want to join the kind of rogue nations that don’t accept the United Nations’.
She said Britain had refused in the Assange case to apply a new law that extradition cannot apply where there had been no charges laid or a decision by a judge.
But a British government spokesman said on Friday the UN panel’s ruling would be contested and the former computer hacker would be arrested if he left the embassy.
‘This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention,’ the spokesman said.
‘He is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorian embassy.
‘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 Swedish government on Friday also rejected the UN panel’s report.
‘Mr Assange is free to leave the embassy at any point,’ a statement said.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority said the statement from the UN group had ‘no formal impact’ on its ongoing investigation.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who is in London, met with members of Assange’s legal team on Thursday.
‘I have now read the report and I am seeking legal advice on its implications for Mr Assange, as an Australian citizen,’ she said in a statement on Friday.
‘I have confirmed with his lawyers that our offer of consular assistance stands should he require it.’