WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” by Britain and Sweden since December 2010, and should be freed and compensated, a UN human rights panel says.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which falls under the offices of the UN human rights chief, made the call in an 18-page document made public on Friday after it had notified Assange.
Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange over allegations of rape stemming from a working visit he made to the country in 2010 when WikiLeaks was attracting international attention for its secret-spilling.
Assange has consistently denied the allegations but declined to return to Sweden to meet with prosecutors and eventually sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has lived since June 2012.
In an indirect swipe at Sweden’s judicial system, the panel noted that Assange was never formally charged in Sweden — only placed under preliminary investigation.
“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 panel chairman Seong-Phil Hong in a statement.
He said the working group believed that Assange’s arbitrary detention “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.”
The panel’s decisions are not binding on states, even if they are generally considered a good arbiter of international law.
“The statement from the Working Group has no formal impact on the ongoing investigation, according to Swedish law,” said Karin Rosander, spokeswoman for Sweden’s Prosecution Authority, in a statement. She said the prosecutor in charge of the case was travelling and not immediately available for comment on the decision.
The British Foreign Office said it was “deeply frustrated” by the opinion.
“This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention. The UK has already made clear to the UN that we will formally contest the working group’s opinion,” a government spokesman said.
“He is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy,” the spokesman
said. “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.”
One of four voting members the panel disagreed with the majority opinion — an unusual show of dissent on the panel.
UN human rights office official Christophe Peschoux said the dissenter was Vladimir Tochilovsky, a Ukrainian member of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The 3-1 vote in the case came after an Australian member of the five-person panel recused herself from the proceedings because she shares the same nationality as Assange.