A UN panel said on Friday morning confirmed reports that it believes Julian Assange is being arbitrarily detained.
Following a complaint by the Wikileaks founder in 2014, a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has been investigating his case.
Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador and has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sex offenses and rape.
The Australian publisher maintains that if he goes to Sweden, he will subsequently be extradited to the US to stand trial for his work on Wikileaks.
On Thursday, The BBC reported that the UN panel was going to rule that he has been “arbitrarily detained.” The Swedish foreign ministry has also said that the report concludes that Assange is being arbitrarily detained, Sky News reported.
And now it’s official: The Working Group’s head Seong-Phil Jong said in a statement:”The Working Group on arbitrary detention considers that the various forms of deprivation of liberty to which Julian Assange has been subjected constitute a form of arbitrary detention.”
He added: “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.”
So does this mean Assange is a free man? In a word, no.
The UK government disputes that the Wikileaks editor-in-chief is being detained. A spokesperson said on Thursday:
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… 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 Mr Assange to Sweden.
UK police say that if Assange leaves the embassy, he will be arrested.
If the panel’s decision prompts Sweden to drop its investigation, then he will be free to go. But it’s by no mean clear that investigators will do so — even if Assange’s lawyer told the Associated Press that Sweden has “no other option.”
Some of the allegations facing Assange were dropped in 2015 because the Swedish statute of limitations expired. However, the more serious allegations of rape will not expire until 2020 — meaning that if Swedish prosecutors do not drop their investigation, and Assange does not surrender himself willingly, he could remain in the embassy for another four years.
Meanwhile, Assange’s health is continuing to deteriorate. His doctor says that the Wikileaks publisher is in “constant and severe pain,” and needs an MRI scan to help with diagnosis — a procedure that cannot be carried out in the embassy.
UK authorities have refused to grant Assange “safe passage” to a hospital for the scan.
Assange’s lawyers are holding a press conference at noon on Friday.
Assange legal team will respond to his reported UN victory at a press conference, noon GMT, at London’s Front Line Club.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) February 4, 2016