A United Nations working group on Friday declared that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arbitrarily detained for more than three years and should be freed and compensated, in a decision the Australian journalist called a "really significant victory."
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its nonbinding opinion on Friday, a day after reports began circulating that the panel was likely to rule in Assange's favor.
"[T]he Working Group recognized that Mr. Assange is entitled to his freedom of movement and to compensation," the decision reads. It continues:
Having concluded that there was a continuous deprivation of liberty, the Working Group also found that the detention was arbitrary because he was held in isolation during the first stage of detention and because of the lack of diligence by the Swedish Prosecutor in its investigations, which resulted in the lengthy detention of Mr. Assange.
Assange, who has been living under asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, where he sought refuge after publishing thousands of classified U.S. military and State Department documents, urged authorities to abide by the decision and lift warrants calling for his arrest. He is wanted in Sweden on sexual assault allegations, but has said he fears being extradited to the U.S., where he may face charges over the leaked documents.
"I miss my family," Assange told reporters on Friday. "We have today a really significant victory that has brought a smile to my face."
"It’s now the task of Sweden and Britain to implement the verdict," he said.
But as of Friday, that seemed unlikely. The Swedish Foreign Ministry disagreed with the verdict, saying Assange was "free to leave the embassy at any point. Thus, he is not being deprived of his liberty there due to any decision or action taken by the Swedish authorities."
The UK Foreign Office made similar comments. "This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention," the department said, adding that it would "formally contest" the working group's opinion.
On Twitter, whistleblower Edward Snowden warned that this kind of response "writes a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings. Dangerous precedent for UK/Sweden to set."
Melinda Taylor, who brought Assange's case to the UN, called the decision "a damning indictment of the manner in which this case has been handled [and] affirms that Mr. Assange is a victim of a significant miscarriage of justice."
She added, "Now finally with today's decision, there's light at the end of the tunnel."