After nearly four years of being effectively trapped inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Julian Assange, the Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, may soon walk free thanks to a United Nations ruling announced today. The international body had previously decided in February that Assange was being “arbitrarily detained” by the UK and Swedish governments and that he was “entitled to his freedom of movement and to compensation.” Assange sought asylum at the embassy in June of 2012 as he was facing extradition to Sweden over rape allegations. Assange feared that, if extradited to Sweden, that he would then be extradited to the United States, which has been arming a case against him for years over espionage charges for his work at WikiLeaks. However, the rape allegations against Assange have been proven to be unfounded as both alleged victims have explicitly denied being raped by Assange and the case remains a “preliminary investigation” despite being over six years old.
Since being granted asylum in Ecuador in 2012, the UK government has spent an enormous amount of money paying for a constant police presence at the embassy’s entrance, in order to arrest Assange and extradite him were he to leave the building. The practice has cost the UK over £10 million. After the UN’s February decision declaring Assange’s situation unlawful and inhumane, the UK government offered a strongly-worded appeal arguing that Assange’s “human rights have been protected throughout the process and will continue to be protected if and when he is extradited to Sweden.” However, Assange has been unable to go outside or even to see the sun for over four years and has also been unable to see his children during this entire ordeal. Because he has received asylum, Assange is permitted by international law to travel to Ecuador per the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, which was signed by both the UK and Sweden. However, both of these countries have ignored the treaty in favor of serving their geopolitical alliances with the United States, where the political establishment considers Assange a “terrorist.” Some US politicians and political strategists have even called for his execution due to his release of sensitive US documents via WikiLeaks.
Thankfully, the United Nations has stood by its previous decision and has rejected the UK appeal as “inadmissible.” This decision requires both the UK and Sweden to take immediate steps to end Assange’s “arbitrary detention.” This is the second time the UN has rejected a UK appeal since its initial decision was reached. The UN firmly stated that today’s decision marks the official end of the UK government’s attempts to overturn the ruling. Assange said in a statement that “now that all appeals are exhausted, I expect that the UK and Sweden will comply with their international obligations and set me free.” Assange went on to call his detention “an obvious and grotesque injustice.” Even though the UN has ordered the UK to set Assange free, it is possible that the UK will refuse to abide by the UN’s decision despite the fact that it would set a dangerous precedent and put the UK in difficult territory internationally. However, the US’ influence on the UK is incredibly strong and if the US political elite want Assange badly enough, which they likely do after WikiLeak’s election season leaks, they may strong-arm the UK into working against its own best interest. It wouldn’t be the first time.
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