A “deeply frustrated” UK on Friday announced it will formally contest the opinion of a UN panel that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a victim of “arbitrary detention”. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention today ruled that the 44-year-old Australian should be allowed to walk free as well as be allowed to seek compensation.
But the UK Foreign Office issued a statement, saying that the ruling “changes nothing” and that the UK “completely rejects” any claim that Assange is a victim of “arbitrary detention”. It added: “The UK has already made clear to the UN that we will formally contest the working group’s opinion. Julian Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK. 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. 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. As the UK is not a party to the Caracas Convention, we do not recognise ‘diplomatic asylum’.
“We are deeply frustrated that this unacceptable situation is still being allowed to continue. Ecuador must engage with Sweden in good faith to bring it to an end. Americas Minister Hugo Swire made this clear to the Ecuadorean Ambassador in November, and we continue to raise the matter in Quito.”
The UN panel’s ruling, released yesterday, is not legally binding on the UK and as a European arrest warrant remains in place, Britain says it has a legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden. But the Geneva-based UN working group insists Assange’s detention “should be brought to an end” and he “should be afforded the right to compensation”. Three of the five-member panel supported the finding against the UK and Sweden, with one excusing herself from the vote on account of sharing Australian nationality with Assange. The fifth disagreed with the position of the majority and said Assange’s situation is not one of detention and therefore falls outside the mandate of the Working Group.
The cost of policing his Ecuadorian embassy hideout in London’s posh Knightsbridge had been recently revealed at over 12 million pounds. Scotland Yard had announced a considerable scale back of police presence in the area last October. “The operation to arrest Julian Assange does however continue and should he leave the Embassy the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) will make every effort to arrest him,” the Met police said.