WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be allowed to go free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and awarded compensation for what amounts to a three-and-a-half-year detention, a U.N. panel ruled on Friday.
The embassy of Ecuador in central London
The UK government said it will contest the opinion of the UN panel. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called the ruling ridiculous.
Later, addressing a press conference via video link from the embassy, Assange urged Britain and Sweden to let him walk free from Ecuador’s embassy.
He hailed the UN panel’s ruling as a “signicant victory which has brought a smile to my face.”
“It is now the task of the states of Sweden and the United Kingdom as a whole to implement the verdict,” he said.
Assange, a computer hacker who enraged the United States by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, has been holed up in the embassy since June 2012 to avoid a rape investigation in Sweden.
Both Britain and Sweden denied that Assange was being deprived of freedom, noting he had entered the embassy voluntarily.
Assange, an Australian, appealed to the U.N. panel, whose decision is not binding, saying he was a political refugee whose rights had been infringed by being unable to take up asylum in Ecuador.
The panel ruled in his favour, though the decision was not unanimous.
Reacting to its ruling, UK said it changes nothing. It rejected the UN panel’s claim that Assange was a victim of arbitrary detention.
He has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK. In fact, he is 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, the government said.
“As the UK is not a party to the Caracas Convention, we do not recognise ‘diplomatic asylum,” it added.
Hammond poured scorn on a U.N. working group report on Assange and said the Wikileaks founder was a fugitive from justice.
“I reject the decision of this working group,” he told ITV news on Friday. “It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers. Julian Assange is a fugitive from justice. He is hiding from justice in the Ecuadorian embassy.
“He can come out any time he chooses… But he will have to face justice in Sweden if he chooses to do so. This is frankly a ridiculous finding by the working group and we reject it,” Hammond said.