Assange hails victory, urges Britain, Sweden to accept UN ruling

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hailed a UN panel's finding that he is under arbitrary detention on Friday, urging Britain and Sweden to "implement the decision."

"We have now a victory, and decided law on this case," Assange told reporters via a video link from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

"It is the end of the road for the legal arguments," Assange said. "It is now the task of the states of Sweden and the United Kingdom to implement the decision."

Britain and Sweden have dismissed the ruling by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a panel of independent legal scholars, that the Australian activist had been subject to arbitrary detention since his arrest in London in 2010 on Swedish allegations of rape and sexual harassment.

The group called on the two countries to allow the whistleblower to leave his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Although the ruling is legally binding, the panel has no power to enforce it, and their decision was quickly dismissed by Britain and Sweden.

"This is, frankly, a ridiculous finding by the working group and we reject it," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

Assange said Hammond's comment was "beneath the stature" of a foreign minister, adding that failure to implement the ruling "undermines the UN system."

NSA whistelblower Edward Snowden said Britain and Sweden's rejection of the UN panel's ruling sets a "dangerous precedent."

"This writes a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings," Snowden wrote on Twitter.

Assange fears that an extradition to Sweden could be followed by an extradition to the United States, where he faces a possible life sentence for publishing secret government documents on his WikiLeaks platform. The US has yet to file any charges against him.

"The Working 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, and that he should be entitled to an enforceable right to compensation," said Seong-Phil Hong, who heads the UN panel.

Sweden rejected the opinion that Assange was being detained arbitrarily and argued that he runs no risk of extradition to the US because there has been no such request from Washington.

"Assange, voluntarily, has chosen to stay at the Ecuadorian embassy and Swedish authorities have no control over his decision to stay there," Anders Ronquist, the Foreign Ministry's head of legal affairs, wrote to the UN panel.

British chief diplomat Hammond denounced the UN panel's five seasoned scholars as "a group made up of lay people and not lawyers."

"He can come out any time he chooses," Hammond said of Assange. "But he will have to face justice in Sweden if he chooses to do so."

Assange's lawyers said London and Stockholm should heed the UN opinion and let Assange go.

The UN decision "dispels the myth that Assange is a fugitive of justice or can walk out of the embassy," said Melinda Taylor, one of his lawyers.

Based on a Swedish arrest warrant on suspicion of sexual misconduct, the Australian whistleblower spent 10 days in isolation in a British prison and was then put under house arrest for 550 days.

Since 2012, he has been staying in the Ecuadorian embassy.

"Since August 2012, Mr. Assange has not been able to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy and is subject to extensive surveillance by the British police," the UN panel noted.

It judged Assange's situation as a form of arbitrary detention because of his initial solitary confinement, and because the lengthy detention was due to a lack of diligence by the Swedish prosecutor.

"Indefinite detention is actually a form of mental torture," Taylor said.

Sweden could have detained Assange based on preliminary investigations while he was still in the country, said Christophe Peschoux, the UN panel's secretary.

"But now, 5 years later, still no charges have been filed against him," he told reporters in Geneva.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25
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