UN panel calls for WikiLeaks founder to be freed from "arbitrary detention"

GENEVA - The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has called on Swedish and British authorities to end WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's "deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation."

The expert panel made the call Friday (Feb 5), saying that Mr Assange has been arbitrarily detained by Sweden and the United Kingdom since his arrest in London on 7 December 2010, as a result of the legal action against him by both governments.

Mr Assange was first detained at 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 in 2012 after losing his appeal to the UK's 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.

"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 Seong-Phil Hong, who currently heads the five-member independent rights panel of experts.

"The Working Group maintains that the arbitrary detention of Mr 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," Mr. Hong added.

In its official Opinion, the Working Group considered that Mr Assange had been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth Prison in London, followed by house arrest and then confinement at the Embassy of Ecuador.

The experts also found that the detention was arbitrary because Mr Assange was held in isolation at Wandsworth Prison, and because a lack of diligence by the Swedish Prosecutor's Office in its investigations resulted in his lengthy loss of liberty.

The Working Group established that this detention violates Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Articles 7, 9(1), 9(3), 9(4), 10 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Working Group in its statement 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."   

The Opinions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention are legally-binding to the extent that they are based on binding international human rights law, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The WGAD has a mandate to investigate allegations of individuals being deprived of their liberty in an arbitrary way or inconsistently with international human rights standards, and to recommend remedies such as release from detention and compensation, when appropriate.

The binding nature of its opinions derives from the collaboration by states in the procedure, the adversarial nature of is findings and also by the authority given to the WGAD by the UN Human Rights Council. The Opinions of the WGAD are also considered as authoritative by prominent international and regional judicial institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, a South Korean national, is the Chairman-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Other members of the Working Group are Ms Leigh Toomey (Australia); Mr José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Mexico); Mr Roland Adjovi Sètondji (Benin) and Mr Vladimir Tochilovsky (Ukraine).