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UN Panel: Assange Detained Arbitrarily 02/05 05:38

   GENEVA (AP) -- A United Nations human rights panel has sided with WikiLeaks 
founder Julian Assange in his long-running battle with Swedish and British 
authorities, saying he should be freed immediately and compensated for the 
years he has lost.

   The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which falls under the offices 
of the U.N. human rights chief, said Assange has been "arbitrarily detained" by 
Britain and Sweden since December 2010, when he was first sought for 
questioning on allegations of sexual misconduct.

   The panel's recommendation was immediately rejected by Swedish and British 
officials who said Assange's legal situation is unchanged. He remains in the 
Embassy of Ecuador in London, where he sought refuge more than three years ago.

   The panel's finding has no legal force, British and Swedish officials 
maintain, but it represents a public relations victory for Assange, who argues 
that the allegations against him are part of a plot to send him to the United 
States to face more possible charges related to WikiLeaks' release of 
classified documents.

   The panel's decision was not unanimous: Vladimir Tochilovsky, a Ukrainian 
member, disagreed with the other three voting members because he did not 
believe the group had a mandate to investigate the case because he did not 
believe Assange had been detained. The fifth member of the panel recused 
herself because she is Australian, as is Assange.

   It is not clear if U.S. judicial officials are seeking Assange's arrest on 
U.S. charges. No charges have been filed against Assange in Sweden, but Swedish 
prosecutors want to question him over allegations of rape stemming from a 
working visit he made to the country in 2010 when WikiLeaks was attracting 
international attention for its secret-spilling.

   Assange has consistently denied the allegations but declined to return to 
Sweden to meet with prosecutors and eventually sought refuge in the Ecuadorean 
embassy in London, where he has lived since June 2012.

   The panel criticized Sweden's approach, noting that Assange was never 
formally charged in Sweden --- only placed under preliminary investigation.

   "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," said panel chairman Seong-Phil Hong in a 
statement.

   Citing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that has 168 
state parties including both Sweden and Britain, the panel said "the adequate 
remedy would be to ensure the right of free movement of Mr. Assange and accord 
him an enforceable right to compensation."

   British officials argue that Assange is free to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy 
at any time --- although he would face arrest from British police because of a 
European Arrest Warrant issued at Sweden's behest. He is also sought by Britain 
for jumping bail.

   The panel's decision, which was given privately to the governments before it 
was released to the public, seems to have stunned officials in Sweden and 
Britain who maintain proper procedures have been followed at all times.

   Karin Rosander, spokeswoman for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, said that 
under Swedish law the panel's conclusion will have no "formal impact."

   British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called the panel's finding "frankly 
ridiculous".

   The panel criticized a "disproportionate" reaction by Swedish prosecutors in 
issuing a European arrest warrant rather than seeking to question Assange using 
bilateral agreements with Britain, and insisted that the Swedish prosecutor 
refused to consider other ways of interviewing him compatible with his right to 
asylum --- which it said was not properly respected.

   Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement it would formally contest the 
panel's opinion.

   "This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is 
a victim of arbitrary detention," the Foreign Office said in a 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."

   It countered that Assange was "voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by 
choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy."

   The case has also been complicated by uncertainty surrounding Assange's 
legal status in the United States. The U.S. government has not revealed whether 
he has been indicted --- grand jury proceedings are secret there --- but has 
indicated that sensitive investigations into Assange and WikiLeaks have been 
made.

   The working group said Assange could face "refoulement" to the United States 
--- being handed over to a country where he could face violence or prison. The 
U.N. upholds the principle of non-refoulement prohibiting that practice.


(KA)


 
 
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