UN panel says Assange in ‘illegal detention’: Sweden

February 4, 2016 8:56 pm
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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange addressing the media and his supporters from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012/AFP
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange addressing the media and his supporters from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012/AFP
LONDON, Feb 4 – A UN panel examining Julian Assange’s alleged rape case has found his self-imposed confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London amounts to illegal detention, the Swedish foreign ministry said Thursday.

The WikiLeaks founder, who has been holed up at the embassy since June 2012 to avoid arrest, said he expects the British police to call off their attempts to detain him if the panel rules in his favour when it publishes its report on Friday.

But Sweden’s prosecution authority said the ruling had no impact on its investigation into a 2010 rape allegation against him, and Britain said it would have to arrest him as long as a European warrant for his arrest remained in vigour.

WikiLeaks filed a complaint against Sweden and Britain to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) in September 2014, claiming his confinement in the embassy amounted to illegal detention.

The Swedish foreign ministry said the government had received a copy of the panel’s conclusions.

“We can only note that the working panel has come to another conclusion than Swedish judicial authorities,” a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

Rulings by the UN group are not legally binding, although the Justice for Assange support group claimed its rulings have influenced the release of prominent figures including Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was held by Iran for 18 months.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per Samuelsson told AFP that his client met the definition of someone being illegally detained, even though he himself chose to seek refuge in the embassy.

“The European Convention on Human Rights doesn’t define detention as sitting in a cell, it sees it an infringement of one’s freedom” if a person’s movements are limited due to the risk of arrest.

“The European Convention has a wider definition,” he said.

Samuelsson said he expected Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny to ask a court to withdraw the arrest warrant.

“Marianne Ny would have to have my client released immediately,” he said.

But the Swedish prosecution authority said Thursday the panel’s ruling “has no formal significance for the ongoing investigation under Swedish law.”

Prosecutors are keen to make headway in the case that has been deadlocked for nearly five years by questioning Assange. The Australian has denied the allegations.

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