A United Nations panel has ruled in favour of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The panel has said that he should be allowed to go free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The panel also called on the UK and Sweden to compensate the whistleblower for his “arbitrary detention”.
“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,” said Seong-Phil Hong, who currently heads the expert panel of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
“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,” Hong added.
However, both Sweden and the UK have rejected the ruling, saying it “changes nothing”. Earlier too, both countries had denied that Assange was being deprived of freedom as he had entered the embassy voluntarily.
Even though the UN panel’s ruling is not binding, it comes as a big relief to Assange who has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face a rape investigation.
In his appeal to the UN panel in 2014, Assange had complained against UK and Sweden claiming that he was a political refugee who was being “arbitrarily detained” in the Ecuadorian embassy as he could not leave its premises without being arrested.
Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador, which has housed him since 2012 at its embassy in central London.
The 44-year-old Australian computer hacker, who founded the WikiLeaks in 2006 had released secret US military files and diplomatic cables which enraged the US. The files contained explosive details about US and UK’s war crimes in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and also US appraisals of world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi royal family among others.
“If the U.N. decides in my favour, it is a vindication for what I have been saying over the last five years. I have been held without charge in this country for five and a half years. That is not an acceptable situation in Europe and I’m confident in my arguments and the U.N. will find in my favour,” he told France Inter radio on Thursday ahead of the UN ruling.
“The UK took my passport five and a half years ago, and that would be the first requirement to achieve practical freedom of movement,” he added.
Assange has denied allegations of sexually assaulting two women in Sweden. He fears he will be extradited to the US from Sweden where he faces espionage charges for leaking secret American documents.
(With inputs from agencies)