WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arbitrarily detained by the U.K. and Sweden since his arrest in London in 2010, a UN panel said on Friday.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the Swedish and British authorities “to end Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation," the UN said in a statement.
Assange was out on bail when he claimed asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy in 2012 after losing his appeal in the U.K. Supreme Court against extradition to Sweden, where a judicial investigation was initiated against him in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct. However, he was not formally charged.
In 2015, Swedish prosecutors dropped the two sexual assault claims against Assange but the rape accusation remains.
“The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considers that the various forms of deprivation of liberty to which Julian Assange has been subjected constitute a form of arbitrary detention,” the head of UN expert panel, Seong-Phil Hong said in a statement.
“The Working Group maintains that the arbitrary detention of Assange should be brought to an end, that his physical integrity and freedom of movement be respected, and that he should be entitled to an enforceable right to compensation,” Hong added.
The experts noted that "a lack of diligence by the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office in its investigations resulted in his lengthy loss of liberty".
In a statement released on Friday, a U.K. government spokesperson said the ruling “changes nothing” and that Britain would formally contest the ruling.
“We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention. The UK has already made clear to the U.N. that we will formally contest the working group’s opinion," said the statement. “Julian Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the U.K. The opinion of the U.N. Working Group ignores the facts and the well-recognized protections of the British legal system."
“He is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy," the statement added. "An allegation of rape is still outstanding and a European Arrest Warrant in place, so the U.K. continues to have a legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden. As the U.K. is not a party to the Caracas Convention, we do not recognize ‘diplomatic asylum’.”
The spokesperson called on Ecuador to work with Sweden and the U.K. on resolving the Assange case.
The WikiLeaks founder launched a complaint against Sweden and the U.K. in 2014, claiming he was being "arbitrarily detained" because he could not leave the Ecuadorian embassy without being arrested.