LONDON • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has urged Britain and Sweden to let him walk free from Ecuador's embassy in London after a United Nations (UN) panel found that the anti-secrecy campaigner was "arbitrarily detained".
Addressing a press conference yesterday via video link from the embassy, where he sought refuge in June 2012 and was later granted asylum, Assange hailed a "significant victory which has brought a smile to my face".
"It is now the task of the states of Sweden and the United Kingdom as a whole to implement the verdict," the 44-year-old Australian told a packed room of journalists in the British capital.
His comments came after a UN panel said Assange's detention should end and that he should be able to claim compensation from Britain and Sweden, where he faces questioning over a rape allegation whose statute of limitations does not expire until 2020.
But both countries quickly dismissed the non-binding legal opinion, with Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond calling it "ridiculous" and Sweden's Foreign Ministry saying the panel had no right to "interfere".
Assange walked into the embassy in June 2012 to avoid the threat of arrest and extradition to Sweden. He has lived there ever since in a small office room with a bed, computer, sun lamp, treadmill and access to a small balcony.
In a statement, the panel said it had adopted an opinion "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".
It added: "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."
Britain and Sweden sharply condemned the panel's findings and said they would change nothing.
Mr Hammond called Assange "a fugitive from justice". "This is frankly a ridiculous finding by the working group and we reject it," the Foreign Secretary added.
Sweden's Foreign Ministry said the panel had no right to "interfere in an ongoing case handled by a Swedish public authority".
Only three of the five members of the UN panel supported the opinion - one recused herself because she is Australian, like Assange, and another member disagreed.
Assange has denied allegations of the 2010 rape in Sweden, saying the accusation is a ploy that would eventually take him to the United States where a criminal investigation into the activities of whistle-blower website WikiLeaks is still open.
WikiLeaks' activities, including the release of 500,000 secret military files and 250,000 diplomatic cables, have infuriated the US.
The main source of the leaks, US Army soldier Chelsea Manning, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for breaches of the Espionage Act.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS