Sunday, 7 February 2016

The strange case of Julian Assange continues.....

Julian Assange has reportedly been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 12 June 2012, a total of 1,328 days since he sought asylum there.

The legal matter which triggered his request for asylum remains unresolved to date.

On 5 February 2016 the Office of High CommissionerHuman Rights, United Nations, issued this statement:

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Deems the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Julian Assange as arbitrary

On 4 December 2015, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) adopted Opinion No. 54/2015, in which it considered that Mr. Julian Assange was arbitrarily detained by the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In that opinion, the Working Group recognized that Mr. Assange is entitled to his freedom of movement and to compensation. The application was filed with the Working Group in September 2014. The Opinion 54/2015 was sent to the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 22 January 2016 in accordance with the Working Group’s Methods of Work.

Given that Mr. Assange is an Australian citizen, one of the members of the Working Group who shares his nationality recused herself from participating in the deliberations.  Another member of the Working Group disagreed with the position of the majority and considered that the situation of Mr. Assange is not one of detention and therefore falls outside the mandate of the Working Group.

In mid-2010, a Swedish Prosecutor commenced an investigation against Mr. Assange based on allegations of sexual misconduct. On 7 December 2010, pursuant to an international arrest warrant issued at the request of the Swedish Prosecutor, Mr. Assange was detained in Wandsworth Prison for 10 days in isolation. Thereafter, he was subjected to house arrest for 550 days.  While under house arrest in the United Kingdom, Mr. Assange requested the Republic of Ecuador to grant him refugee status at its Embassy in London. The Republic of Ecuador granted asylum because of Mr. Assange’s fear that if he was extradited to Sweden, he would be further extradited to the United States where he would face serious criminal charges for the peaceful exercise of his freedoms.  Since August 2012, Mr. Assange has not been able to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy and is subject to extensive surveillance by the British police.

The Working Group considered that Mr. Assange has been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth prison which was followed by house arrest and his confinement at the Ecuadorian Embassy.  Having concluded that there was a continuous deprivation of liberty, the Working Group also found that the detention was arbitrary because he was held in isolation during the first stage of detention and because of the lack of diligence by the Swedish Prosecutor in its investigations, which resulted in the lengthy detention of Mr. Assange.  The Working Group found that this detention is in violation of Articles 9 and 10 of the UDHR and Articles 7, 9(1), 9(3), 9(4), 10 and 14 of the ICCPR, and falls within category III as defined in its Methods of Work. 

The Working Group therefore requested Sweden and the United Kingdom to assess the situation of Mr. Assange to ensure his safety and physical integrity, to facilitate the exercise of his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner, and to ensure the full enjoyment of his rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention. The Working Group also considered that the detention should be brought to an end and that Mr. Assange should be afforded the right to compensation. 

SBS News, 5 February 2016:

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has branded a United Nations working group report on the "arbitrary detention" of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as "frankly ridiculous".

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart in London, Mr Hammond said Mr Assange was in fact "hiding from justice".

He spoke out after the UN working group ruled Mr Assange was being "arbitrarily detained" in the Ecuadorian embassy in London - and called for him to be paid compensation.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said the Swedish and British authorities should end Assange's "deprivation of liberty" and respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement.

Assange is wanted for questioning over an alleged sex offence in Sweden but has avoided extradition by seeking refuge in the embassy, where he has been living for more than three years after being granted political asylum by the Ecuadorian government.

He claims he will be transported to the United States to be quizzed over the activities of WikiLeaks if he is extradited to Sweden. There is an espionage case against him in the US.

He filed a complaint against Sweden and the UK to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in September 2014.

But Hammond said: "I reject the decision of this working group. It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers.

"Julian Assange is a fugitive from justice. He is hiding from justice in the Ecuadorian embassy.

"He can come out any time he chooses ... But he will have to face justice in Sweden if he chooses to do so.

"This is frankly a ridiculous finding by the working group and we reject it.".....

The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 February 2016:

And Australian human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said the UN report showed that "the real villain is Sweden".

Sweden had misused the European arrest warrant system, he said.

"The United Kingdom should now ask Sweden to withdraw that arrest warrant," Mr Robertson said. "It can in fact refuse to act upon it because it has been declared unlawful by this UN tribunal. I think that would be the proper way."

In a statement addressed to the UN Working Group, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs said it disagreed with their opinion.

"He is not being deprived of his liberty (at the embassy) due to any decision or action taken by the Swedish authorities," they said, adding that the government could not in any case interfere with an ongoing case handled by a Swedish public prosecutor.

Assange’s country of origin, Australia, had this to say on the subject by way of its Foreign Minister Julie Bishop:

"I have now read the report and I am seeking legal advice on its implications for Mr Assange, as an Australian citizen….I have confirmed with his lawyers that our offer of consular assistance stands should he require it."

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