London: A UN panel considering the case of Julian Assange on Thursday reportedly concluded that the WikiLeaks founder has been ‘arbitrarily detained’, but the British government said his arrest warrant remains intact.
Assange was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual assault and rape. Assange denies the claims.
In 2014, he filed a complaint against Britain and Sweden with the UN and said he was being “arbitrarily detained” in the embassy as he could not leave it without being arrested.
It is believed that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention – which was considering Assange’s request for relief – has ruled in his favour, according to the BBC.
The conclusion of the UN’s report was confirmed by the Swedish foreign ministry. The decision was due to be published on Friday.
A British government spokesman, however, said Assange still faced one allegation of rape, while a European Arrest Warrant remained in place.
“We have been consistently clear that Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by London but was, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC.
“Britain continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden.”
On Thursday, Assange said he would leave the Ecuadorean embassy if the panel ruled against him and accept arrest by the British police.
“Should the UN announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden, I shall exit the Embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal,” Assange said in a statement.
However, he added that he expected his passport to be returned and further attempts to arrest him to be blocked if “the state parties (were) found to have acted unlawfully”.
In December 2010, Assange was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault in Sweden and his extradition was ordered.
Failing to surrender for removal to Sweden in 2012 after seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy means he was subject to arrest by the London Metropolitan Police.
In October 2015, the Met Police stood down the 24/7 police presence outside the embassy and said “should (Assange) leave the Embassy the (Metropolitan Police Service) will make every effort to arrest him”.
In 2010, WikiLeaks published a classified US military video which showed an attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad three years earlier.
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It was followed by the release of thousands of documents regarding the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
Wikileaks earlier tweeted it was waiting for “official confirmation” of the UN panel’s decision.
Downing Street said the panel’s ruling would not be legally binding in Britain.
The Swedish foreign ministry said in a statement that it noted the UN panel’s decision “differs from that of the Swedish authorities”.
The statement added the legal process for Assange’s case would be handled in court by Swedish prosecutors.