London Evening Standard/London
Britain yesterday signalled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange still faces arrest if he leaves Ecuador’s London embassy, regardless of an expected UN ruling in his favour.
Officials confirmed the UK is not bound by any decision of a UN working group which is believed to have found Assange is being “unlawfully detained”. They said the UK is still obliged to extradite him to Sweden to face a rape allegation and police maintain they will make “every effort” to arrest him if sets foot outside the embassy.
Yesterday Assange promised to hand himself in if the UN group ruled against him, but said he expected to walk free if it ruled in his favour. The 44-year-old Australian has been holed up in the embassy in Knightsbridge for more than three years.
A government source said: “The allegation of rape is still outstanding. The European Arrest Warrant is still in place. So there is still an obligation to extradite him to Sweden. The decision by the UN working group is not legally binding.”
A Met spokesman said the operation to arrest Assange was ongoing and “should he leave the embassy the MPS will make every effort to arrest him.”
In 2014 Assange filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which has been exploring his case. He argued that living in 30 square metres of the embassy with no sunlight or fresh air had taken a “significant toll” on his mental health.
The panel has made previous rulings on whether individuals have been imprisoned lawfully, although it has no direct remit over British or Swedish authorities. While its official announcement is not expected until today, it was reported yesterday that it had decided Assange was being “unlawfully detained” in Britain.
Yesterday Assange said: “Should the UN announce that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden I shall exit the embassy at noon today to accept arrest by police as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal.
“However, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me.”
Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over the rape allegation, which he has always denied, and is fighting against extradition.
He claims that if he is sent to Sweden, he will be handed to the US who have prepared an espionage case against him following the posting by WikiLeaks of a hoard of secret American government documents on the Internet.
Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador and has been in the embassy since breaking police bail in 2012. He faces immediate arrest if he steps outside, where police are posted around the clock at a cost of millions of pounds.
According to website justice4assange.com, he has so far spent 1,885 days “under house arrest”.
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