By Tom Ballard
On Friday, Feb. 5, the United Nation’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released its report from December 2015, which claimed that Julian Assange, founder of the Wikileaks website, was “arbitrarily detained by the governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom,” according to a press release from the organization. In addition, the working committee ordered that the governments compensate Assange after his subjection to “different forms of deprivation of liberty.”
According to the press release, pursuant to a European arrest warrant issued by Sweden, Assange was placed in 10 days of solitary confinement in Wandsworth Prison in Sweden on Dec. 7, 2010, following a Swedish prosecutor’s investigation against Assange for a reported rape claim. Following his stay in solitary confinement, Assange was sentenced to house arrest for 550 days in his United Kingdom residency. Assange escaped his house arrest and received asylum — the act of a country allowing an outside resident to safely reside in its territory — from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012. Assange has remained in the embassy, its boundaries which are constantly patrolled by British police officers.
According to BBC, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond dismissed the ruling by the U.N. panel as “ridiculous.”
Hammond also went on to say that Assange is a “fugitive from justice” who can still come out of the embassy “at any time he chooses,” adding that he would still have to face justice in Sweden, according to the same BBC article.
BBC reported that the Swedish government had dropped two claims of sexual assault, but Assange still faces the more serious accusation of rape.
“The (Swedish) government does not agree with the assessment made by the majority of the working group,” a statement from the Swedish foreign ministry reads, according the Guardian. “Assange has chosen, voluntarily, to stay at the Ecuadorian embassy and Swedish authorities have no control over his decision to stay there… Assange is free to leave the embassy at any point. Thus, he is not being deprived of his liberty.”
A video posted on the U.N. Human Rights Facebook page the day before the decision was released states that the governments of the U.K. and Sweden are “legally bind(ed)” to follow the orders of the working committee.
According to the U.N. Human Rights committee’s website, working groups are comprised of “prominent, independent experts working on a voluntary basis, appointed by the Human Rights Council.”
The press release stated that the five-member group ruled, 3-1, in its decision, with one member recusing herself since she shared the same nationality as Assange: Australian.
According to BBC, the U.K. government reported that it had spent $18.8 million so far on policing the boundaries of the Ecuadorian embassy since Assange took asylum.