Julian Assange announces no plans to leave Ecuadorian Embassy after 'significant victory' with UN ruling

Mr Assange's lawyers called him a 'victim' and Edward Snowden accused Britain and Sweden of setting a 'dangerous precedent'

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 05 February 2016 12:54

Julian Assange has called the United Nations ruling that he has been “arbitrarily detained” for more than five years a “significant victory” but announced no plans to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy.

The WikiLeaks founder attacked Britain and Sweden for saying the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s findings would have no effect on their actions.

Speaking to a press conference over a video link, Mr Assange said his short imprisonment at HMP Wandsworth and stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy had left him with “great difficulty” seeing his family and children.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appears on screen via video link during a news conference at the Frontline Club in London, Britain February 5, 2016.

“Today, that detention, without charge, has been found by the highest organisation, the United Nations…to be unlawful” he added.

“The working group is the world expert body in understanding the law of when someone is to be detained or not detained.”

Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary, had dismissed the UN’s report as “frankly ridiculous” and accused the WikiLeaks founder of “hiding from justice”.

“I reject the decision of this working group. It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers,” he added.

”He can come out any time he chooses…but he will have to face justice in Sweden if he chooses to do so.”

Mr Assange told the press conference he found the comments “insulting” and said they were “beneath the stature” of a foreign minister.

Dismissing the “purely superfluous ad hominem attacks,” he said the British Government’s statements refuting of the findings were “simply for domestic consumption,” adding: “They have no legitimacy in international law”.

Demonstrators hold banners outside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is staying

The ruling is not legally binding and Sweden has already said it will have no impact on its continuing criminal investigation into a rape allegation.

Mr Assange claimed both countries had failed to formally appeal the findings over the past two weeks and were now attempting to validate their own actions.

He accused them of undermining the UN’s system and weakening an “instrument of human rights and international law to which both countries are bound”.

The WikiLeaks founder speculated about “consequences” for the UK and Sweden in the eyes of the international community and possible enforcement measures.

Edward Snowden, who has taken refuge from US prosecution in Russia after leaking classified information he gained as a contractor for the CIA, also condemned the response.

“This writes a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings,” he wrote on Twitter. “Dangerous precedent for UK/Sweden to set.”

Mr Assange did not say what he will do next but claimed the decision as a “significant victory”.

“It adds to my freedom and justice for my children and it adds significantly to the ability of the UN to deal with complex cases of arbitrary detention, including those involving Western states,” he added.

“I miss my family. Today we have a really significant victory that has brought a smile to my face, and I hope to many others as well.”

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has lived since June 2012 in an effort to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces sexual offences charges

Mr Assange's lawyers said he would not leave the embassy until the European arrest warrant had been cancelled.

One of his legal representatives, Melinda Taylor, said her client had been subjected to “different forms of detention” since 2010.

“Detention is not about bricks and mortar and bars, it’s about the deprivation of your liberty,” she added.

“If you have no freedom, if you were subjected to 24/7 police surveillance, both covert and overt, then you are detained.”

Ms Taylor claimed that Swedish investigators refused to question Mr Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy as part of “unreasonable and disproportionate” treatment that was “totally contrary to the presumption of innocence”.

Assange speaking to the media outside the Ecuador embassy in 2012

She said his legal team interpreted the UN’s ruling to mean Mr Assange must be allowed to be free immediately but made no mention of plans to leave the embassy.

“Julian himself has become a victim because of his whistleblowing activities,” Ms Taylor added.

“Finally with today’s decision, there is light at the end of the tunnel, we just need the United Kingdom and Sweden to step up to the plate and let Julian step into the light.”

Swedish prosecutors want to question him over allegations of rape stemming from a working visit he made to the country in 2010, when revelations made by WikiLeaks on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were reverberating around the world.

Mr Assange fears Sweden will extradite him to authorities in the US where he could be put on trial over the publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.

He has consistently denied the rape allegations but refused to return to Sweden and eventually sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has lived since June 2012 after being granted asylum.

The British Government said it will formally contest that the Wikileaks founder’s stay constitutes a “deprivation of liberty'' in violation of his fundamental human rights.

“This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention,” a spokesperson for the British Government said.

“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.”

The spokesperson said that as a rape allegation against Mr Assange is still being investigated in Sweden and subject to a European arrest warrant, the UK has a legal obligation to extradite him

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