QUITO – Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said Friday after a UN panel found that Julian Assange had been arbitrarily detained by Britain and Sweden that it was time for the WikiLeaks founder – holed up at the Andean nation’s embassy in London since 2012 – to be set free.
“It’s time for them to let Julian Assange go free,” Patiño said in an interview with Caracas-based cable news network TeleSur.
Assange, an Australian citizen who allegedly revealed U.S. government secrets via WikiLeaks, filed a complaint against Sweden and Britain in September 2014 with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Following Friday’s release of the UN panel’s opinion, which also said Assange should be awarded compensation, Patiño said it “is perfectly clear that we’re talking about political persecution. If not, how do you explain why two countries have (Assange) arbitrarily detained without the right, not even the minimal right, to a defense or the presumption of innocence?”
The foreign minister also slammed Britain – which said the panel ignored the facts of the case and vowed to contest its opinion – for refusing to abide by the working group’s finding, lamenting the “permanent arbitrary nature” of the case.
“I hope the international community is able to modify this attitude, this absolutely irregular, arbitrary conduct by these two countries that are maintaining a situation that does not correspond to human rights. What’s happening should be intolerable to the world,” he added.
The working group said its official opinions were based on international human rights norms and therefore were legally binding, although Sweden and Britain say the decision will have no effect on the legal process concerning Assange.
“This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention,” Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.
The Australian citizen sought refuge at the Ecuadorian mission after losing a long battle in the British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning on sexual offense allegations.
Assange, who denies the accusations, fears that once he is in Swedish custody, U.S. prosecutors will indict him for espionage and Washington will pressure Stockholm into handing him over.
Politicians and pundits in the United States called for Assange to be prosecuted – or even assassinated – after WikiLeaks disseminated thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables as well as a video that showed an American military helicopter crew killing a Reuters photographer and several other civilians in Iraq.