WikiLeaks lawyer: Britain must respect U.N. ruling on Julian Assange

Julian Assange

He hasn’t left the embassy in nearly four years.

A United Nations panel will reportedly rule in favor of  WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who claims he has been “arbitrarily detained” by the British government for the past five years.

Assange has remained in Ecuador’s London embassy since August 2012, an attempt to escape extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection to sexual crimes he denies committing.

An attorney for WikiLeaks, who took part in the U.N. proceedings, told the Daily Dot that Assange is looking forward to receiving urgent medical treatment, as well as regaining his freedom of movement. This would require the British government to return his passport, which they confiscated before he entered the Ecuadorian embassy.

Sweden’s foreign ministry says the U.N. panel has sided with Assange. However, WikiLeaks tweeted early Thursday morning that it would wait for the official verdict, which is expected to be made public on Friday.

Although the decision was leaked, the U.N. working group will not comment on the decision before Friday at 9am CET, according to Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

On Thursday morning, Assange announced he was prepared to surrender himself to British authorities should the investigation find his detention in Ecuador’s London embassy justified.

“Should the U.N. announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden,” Assange said, “I shall exit the the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal.”

The WikiLeaks editor-in-chief added that, if he prevails, he expects the “state parties … found to have acted unlawfully” to return his passport and discontinue any further attempts to arrest him.

On Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the British government told the BBC that, regardless of the the U.N. group’s findings, “Mr. Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the U.K. but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy.”

The spokesman, who was not identified by name, added: “The U.K. continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden.”

“That shocks me, if that is their position,” Carey Shenkman, a civil rights attorney for Assange with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the Daily Dot by phone. “One, Sweden and the U.K. submitted arguments, they participated, and after the 16-month, independent review of the case—which took into account all of the evidence they submitted—now there’s a decision. It’s strange to say you’re going to play, but not abide by the outcome.

“Second, I think disrespecting this body is not a road either country want to go down,” continued Shenkman. “This is the most serious authority on detention in the U.N. It’s a respected source of international law and both countries rely on the working group for their own nationals that are detained in other countries.”

“We’re really looking for them to implement this decision in a way that respects his rights, respects Assange’s rights,” he added.

Assange entered the embassy in August 2012 after he was granted asylum by Ecuador’s government. Under Swedish law, no charges can be filed against him until he’s first been questioned. Assange’s lawyers have repeatedly offered to proceed with the interviews on Ecuadorean soil.

Assange has offered to surrender himself in the past, if the Swedish government would confirm they have no intention of extraditing him to the United States. They refused the offer, he said. 

The focus of a longstanding U.S. Justice Department investigation, Assange believes exiting the London Ecuadorean embassy without assurances from the U.K. government will likely result in his extradition to the United States.

Court records tied to the case of former U.S. Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning show—as late as Dec. 15, 2015—an “ongoing law enforcement proceeding into the WikiLeaks matter.”

A warrant issued to Google earlier in 2015 revealed the investigation concerned charges of espionage, theft or conversion of U.S. government property, and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), among others.

In October, the City of London Police wrapped up a massive surveillance operation at the Ecuadorean embassy, citing costs. The agency is said to have spent more than £12 million over the last three-and-a-half years, observing the red-bricked building at 3 Hans Cres.

Image by Tiffany Pai

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