UN group says Assange should be allowed to walk free

The UK government says it "changes nothing," however.


A United Nations panel has sided with Julian Assange and classified his time in London's Ecuadorian Embassy as arbitrary detainment. In light of this, the group believes his "detention should be brought to an end" and rectified with some form of compensation. Yesterday, the WikiLeaks founder vowed to "accept arrest by British police" if the group ruled against him. Conversely, the Australian said he expected "the termination of further attempts to arrest me" if the final report was in his favour.

In a statement, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detainment said there had been "a continuous deprivation of liberty" while Assange was at Wandsworth Prison and under house arrest, as well as during his almost four years at the Ecuadorian Embassy. They're now asking for the Swedish and UK governments to "assess the situation" and ensure Assange can exercise "his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner."

"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."

At the moment, it's unclear if the ruling carries any substantial power or influence. As The Guardian notes, the UN's findings aren't legally binding -- although in a Facebook video the panel seems to think otherwise. However, it could be used to apply pivotal pressure on British and Swedish officials. The UK's Metropolitan Police has already stated that it will arrest Assange if he attempts to leave the building, regardless of the panel's decision. The British government has also stood firm with its position this morning, rejecting the UN group's report and reiterating that it would comply with an outstanding European Arrest Warrant.

"This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention. The UK has already made clear to the UN that we will formally contest the working group's opinion."

Assange entered the embassy in the summer of 2012. At the time, Swedish authorities wanted to question him over multiple sexual assault allegations. He was not formally charged and, because they couldn't interview him, were forced to drop part of their investigation last August. Assange is still wanted for questioning over an outstanding rape allegation, however. The 44-year-old believes his arrest would lead to US extradition, where he could be put on trial for extensive documents -- such as those supplied by Chelsea Manning -- published through WikiLeaks.

Will Assange walk out the door today? It seems unlikely. After all, this morning's verdict isn't enough to ensure his freedom outside the embassy. Instead, we suspect he'll remain inside and continue to bide his time.