Britain on Thursday said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continued to face arrest and extradition to Sweden if he stepped out of the Ecuadorean embassy here, as reports claimed a United Nations panel had ruled his confinement as “arbitrary detention”.
The ruling by the UN working group on arbitrary detention is expected to be released on Friday, but reports in the British media on Thursday said it would go in his favour. Official sources said the ruling was not binding on the British government.
After exhausting legal avenues in Britain to prevent extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault, Assange was given asylum by Ecuador in 2012. He has since lived in the country’s embassy here but faces arrest if he steps out of the mission.
The Foreign Office said it would not pre-empt the UN panel’s findings, but added in a statement: “We have been consistently clear that Mr Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy.”
The statement further said: “An allegation of rape is still outstanding and a European arrest warrant in place, so the UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden.”
In a statement issued by WikiLeaks on Twitter, Assange said: “Should the UN announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden, I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal.”
He added: “However, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me.”
Scotland Yard recently stopped round-the-clock patrols outside the Ecuadorean embassy because they were said to be “no longer proportionate”, but covert surveillance is still in place.
A Yard spokesman said: “The operation to arrest Julian Assange does, however, continue and should he leave the embassy the Metropolitan Police Service will make every effort to arrest him.”