THREE AND A half years after he sought temporary asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London only to find himself a captive instead, a UN group has ruled that UK and Swedish authorities unlawfully detained WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in violation of their international human rights obligations.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a statement released today that UK authorities should let Assange leave the embassy and that both the UK and Sweden should compensate him for what it said was an “arbitrary” or prohibited detention.
“Having concluded that there was a continuous deprivation of liberty, the Working Group … found that the detention was arbitrary because he was held in isolation during the first stage of detention and because of the lack of diligence by the Swedish Prosecutor in its investigations, which resulted in the lengthy detention of Mr. Assange,” the UN group wrote in its report. The group said that Sweden and the UK should “assess the situation of Mr. Assange to ensure his safety and physical integrity, to facilitate the exercise of his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner, and to ensure the full enjoyment of his rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention.” The group didn’t elaborate on the nature of the compensation Assange should receive.
Although Assange has technically been a voluntary resident at the embassy since he sought asylum there in June 2012, he has effectively been a captive in that he has been forced to remain inside the building or risk arrest by UK police outside the embassy, even though he’s never been charged with a crime.
The finding released today is not legally binding, and UK and Swedish authorities have indicated that they reject the UN body’s conclusion. Both nations have said in statements that Assange has never been under detention and is free to leave the embassy, though the UK acknowledges that as long as the Swedish arrest warrant still stands, he will be arrested if he leaves.