LONDON, ENGLAND, U.K. (FEBRUARY 5, 2016) (REUTERS) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called on Britain and Sweden on Friday (February 5) to let him freely leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London after a U.N. panel ruled he had been arbitrarily detained and should be awarded compensation.
Assange, a computer hacker who enraged the United States by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, has been holed up in the embassy since June 2012 to avoid a rape investigation in Sweden.
Both Britain and Sweden denied that Assange was being deprived of freedom, noting he had entered the embassy voluntarily.
Britain said it could contest the decision and that Assange would be arrested if he left the embassy.
Assange, an Australian, appealed to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) panel, whose decision is not binding, saying he was a political refugee whose rights had been infringed by being unable to take up asylum in Ecuador.
It ruled in his favour, although the decision was not unanimous. Three of the five members on the panel supported a decision in Assange’s favour, with one dissenter and one recusing herself.
Speaking via video link from his cramped quarters at the embassy in the Knightsbridge area of London, Assange called on Britain and Sweden to implement the U.N. panel’s decision.
“We have today a really significant victory that has brought a smile to my face and I hope many others as well,” Assange said, calling on Sweden and the U.K. implement the WGAD findings.
Assange, 44, denies allegations of a 2010 rape in Sweden, saying the accusation is a ploy that would eventually take him to the United States where a criminal investigation into the activities of WikiLeaks is still open.
The decision in his favour marks the latest twist in a tumultuous journey for Assange since he incensed Washington with leaks that laid bare often highly critical U.S. appraisals of world leaders from Vladimir Putin to the Saudi royal family.
The WGAD does not have the authority to force countries to implement its rulings, and governments have frequently brushed aside its findings such as a ruling on Myanmar’s house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2008, a call in 2006 for the Iraqi government not to hang former dictator Saddam Hussein, and frequent pleas for the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.