A UN panel has found that Julian Assange's occupancy of the Ecuadorian embassy in London amounts to an "arbitrary detention" on the parts of the UK and Sweden, and called for his immediate release, with "compensation".
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) today announced that it had found in favour (PDF) of Julian Assange, who claims to fear what would happen if he ended up in the United States.
Carey Shenkman, who represents Julian Assange in the United States, and had worked on the WGAD submission, told The Register that: "Both Sweden and the UK engaged the UN WGAD."
Shenkman stated: "The independent investigation took into account all of the evidence submitted by both states. States honour the body's decisions, and the European Court of Human Rights relies upon WGAD judgments."
However, the British government has already said it plans to "formally contest the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention".
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: "This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention. The UK has already made clear to the UN that we will formally contest the working group’s opinion."
Julian Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK. The opinion of the UN Working Group ignores the facts and the well-recognised protections of the British legal system.
He is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean 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.
As the UK is not a party to the Caracas Convention, we do not recognise ‘diplomatic asylum’.
The spokesperson added that the Government is "deeply frustrated that this unacceptable situation is still being allowed to continue. Ecuador must engage with Sweden in good faith to bring it to an end. Americas Minister Hugo Swire made this clear to the Ecuadorean Ambassdor in November, and we continue to raise the matter in Quito."
Notably, the WGAD decision was not unanimous, with lone dissenter Vladimir Tochilovsky stating that "premises of self-confinement cannot be considered as places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the Working Group."
Assange's critics maintain that he is responsible for detaining himself through his efforts to avoid custody.
David Allen Green tweeted: “If someone is free to leave a property as they wish, and once outside expected to comply with the law, that is not 'arbitrary detention'.”
At a press conference held at London's Frontline Club, the pale webmaster (via video link) and his team declared that his current residence in the Ecuadorian embassy is a product of the widely lauded work of WikiLeaks.
His representatives' arguments recalled the reasons Assange had already been offered political asylum by Ecuador; they argued that the man is being heavily targeted by the US as a result of his work with WikiLeaks.
His representatives stated that WGAD's argument was detailed and "dispelled the myth that Julian is a fugitive from justice or could just walk out of the embassy".
As a victim of several miscarriages of justice, according to his representatives, Assange had in some way been detained for five years, one month, and 29 days. Detention, they said, "is not about bricks, mortar, and bars, but about being severely deprived of liberty."
Jennifer Robinson stated: "Finally with today's decision there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
The man himself, via video link, stated: "I've been detained without charge in this country the UK for five-and-a-half years." The WikiLeaks founder noted that during this time he had great difficulty seeing his family and his children.
"Today that detention has been found by the highest organisation in the UN that has the jurisdiction for considering the rights of detained person, as unlawful," Assange said, adding that he considered this vindication.
In response to the Foreign Office comments, the WikiLeaks boss alleged FCO minister Philip Hammond had insulted the UN, and his comments were "beneath the stature of the comments that a Foreign Minister should make in this situation".
Assange maintained that the WGAD decision was legally binding and said: "It is now the task of the states of Sweden and the UK as a whole to implement the verdict."
The snowy-haired Australian suggested "the popular media may attempt to look tough and undermine the UN system," but that the nations involved would be knowledgeable of the diplomatic consequences of weakening the human rights instrument of the UN.
Assange thanked the UN for considering over the last 16 months his team's submissions, and those of the states, and for providing their verdict. He also thanked his team, stated that he missed his family, and signed off. ®