Five years without indictment is a violation of Assange’s rights – UN
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be allowed to go free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and be awarded compensation for what amounts to a three-and-a-half-year arbitrary detention, a U.N. panel ruled on Friday (February 5).
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. 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.
“In this case the isolation time of ten days without any grant which is against international stand was already a violation of his right. But we also considered five years of investigation, or preliminary investigation without coming to a conclusion as to whether to indict the alleged suspect or accused is not good enough,” explained Sètondji Roland Adjovi, a U.N. special rapporteur and member of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
“It’s in violation of the fair trial right, the right to a due process, so that’s how the Working Group came to the conclusion that his current situation is a detention situation and that it is arbitrary.”
“Criminal justice is essential, and the crimes alleged are serious. We sympathize with the victims, but at the same time, if while prosecuting the case we violate the accused’s rights we are jeopardizing the justice we need to deliver both for the victim of the alleged crime and to the accused himself,” he added.
Assange, 44, denies allegations of a 2010 rape in Sweden, saying the charge is a ploy that would eventually take him to the United States where a criminal investigation into the activities of WikiLeaks is still open.
Sweden said it has no such plans.
Assange had said that if he lost the appeal then he would leave his cramped quarters at the embassy in the Knightsbridge area of London, though Britain said he would be arrested and extradited to Sweden as soon as he stepped outside.
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.
In 2010, the group released over 90,000 secret documents on the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, followed by almost 400,000 U.S. military reports detailing operations in Iraq. Those disclosures were followed by release of millions of diplomatic cables dating back to 1973.
The U.N. Working Group does not have the authority to order the release of a detainee – and Friday’s ruling in unlikely to change the legal issues facing Assange – but it has considered many high-profile cases and its backing carries a moral weight that puts pressure on governments.
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