2/18/2016

Held Without Consent


A UN panel will conclude Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (above) is being "arbitrarily detained" in the UK, the Swedish foreign ministry has said.

Mr Assange, 44, claimed asylum in London's Ecuadorean embassy in 2012. 

He wants to avoid extradition to Sweden over a rape claim, which he denies.

The Met Police says Mr Assange will be arrested if he leaves the embassy.

Swedish prosecutors said the UN panel's decision would have "no formal impact" on its ongoing investigation. 

Mr Assange earlier said his passport should be returned and his arrest warrant dropped if the UN panel, due to deliver its findings on Friday, ruled in his favor.

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 2014, Mr Assange complained to the UN that he was being "arbitrarily detained" as he could not leave the embassy without being arrested.

The application 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.

Wikileaks earlier tweeted it was waiting for "official confirmation" of the UN panel's decision.

Downing Street said the panel's ruling would not be legally binding in the UK while 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".

The statement added the legal process for Mr Assange's case would be handled in court by Swedish prosecutors. 

Per Samuelsson, Mr Assange's lawyer, said Swedish authorities would be "morally" wrong to continue the investigation if the UN panel found in his favor.

"The ball is in Sweden's yard, in the prosecutor's yard. She is not formally bound by the decision by the UN, but morally it is very difficult to go against it."

The journalist John Pilger, who is a friend of Mr Assange, said "the ball is now at the feet of the British government", whose international legal "obligations" were represented by the UN panel. 

"They did something in terms of supporting the tribunal in all the other celebrated cases, and Assange now joins them because the UN jurists have clearly found this is a case of arbitrary detention," he said.
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