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London: Armed with a new United Nations opinion in his favour, Julian Assange's lawyers have asked the Australian government to help him out of his legal stalemate.
Julian Assange: 'how sweet it is'
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Julian Assange: 'how sweet it is'
Appearing on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the WikiLeaks founder praises the UN panel ruling as a "victory that cannot be denied."
Mr Assange on Friday called the United Nations working group's opinion, released that morning, a "vindication" that made it a matter of settled law that he should be able to walk out of Ecuador's London embassy without being arrested.
And he warned there would be "criminal consequences" for those who continued to impose his "illegal, immoral, unethical detention" – because they were taking part in what amounted to torture.
The UN group concluded that Mr Assange had been arbitrarily detained in contravention of his human rights, and should be allowed his freedom and compensated for his five-year ordeal.
However Mr Assange's lawyers confirmed that he would not leave the embassy until a European arrest warrant against him is cancelled by Swedish authorities.
The team made an informal request for consular assistance in person to Australia's foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop.
And they would follow it up with a formal request for help, said Mr Assange's Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson
She said she had had a "very positive" meeting on Thursday with Ms Bishop, who was "very open" to their requests.
"We have requested they release his passport or immediately issue him a new passport … and that Australia take positive steps to help to negotiate the resolution of this case," she said.
"Australia is vying for a place on the Human Rights Council, the body responsible for implementing this decision, and we think … in light of our international obligations (they should) help facilitate this decision."
Ms Robinson said Mr Assange was thrilled with the UN result and felt completely vindicated.
"He hopes and expects that this will be a turning point in the case and will lead to the resolution of the case and his freedom," she said.
She said Ecuador would now negotiate with the Swedish and British governments to seek to implement the UN group's decision.
If that did not happen then Mr Assange's lawyers would hope to take it to the UN Human Rights Council and consider further legal action.
"This decision dispels the myth that (Assange) is either a fugitive from justice or that he could just walk out the embassy," said Mr Assange's lawyer Melinda Taylor, who argued the case to the UN group.
"It is a damning indictment of the manner in which this case has been handled. Mr Assange is the victim of a significant miscarriage of justice attributed to the actions and inaction of Sweden and the UK.
"Detention is not about bricks and mortar and bars, what matters is that you are severely deprived of your liberty."
She warned that if Britain and Sweden did not comply with the UN working group's conclusion, then they would set a dangerous precedent for rogue states to likewise ignore the UN.
Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon said Mr Assange's lack of freedom was worse than prison and to detain him further could amount to torture.
'Only viable option is to cancel arrest warrant'
Mr Garzon, who represents the WikiLeaks founder, said "every right that could be violated was violated" and the UN group's decision was one of the strongest they had issued.
He said the "only viable solution" was for Sweden to cancel the arrest warrant, which was rendered "empty and void" by the UN opinion.
Speaking over a video link from the embassy, Mr Assange said considered the result in the case to be "vindication" by an expert body in understanding the law on arbitrary detention.
Mr Assange later gave an emotional appeal on behalf of his children in a brief appearance on the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in Knightsbridge.
"How sweet it is, this is a victory that cannot be denied," he told the crowd of journalists and supporters.
"In some ways … it doesn't come as a shock to see the type of injustice I have been in the business of exposing inflicted on myself.
"I am tough I am hardened by this process and I can take it. However what right does this government or the US government or the Swedish government have to deny my children their father for five-and-a-half years without any charges in any country?
"That is a fact that I will never forget and which must be addressed … My children are completely innocent parties to what has happened.
"It is time that they had their father back. And that will happen one way or the other. One way or the other it will happen."
Mr Assange was backed by fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, who tweeted that Britain rejecting the UN opinion would "write a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings".
And Australian human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said the UN report showed that "the real villain is Sweden".
Sweden had misused the European arrest warrant system, he said.
"The United Kingdom should now ask Sweden to withdraw that arrest warrant," Mr Robertson said. "It can in fact refuse to act upon it because it has been declared unlawful by this UN tribunal. I think that would be the proper way."
In a statement addressed to the UN Working Group, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs said it disagreed with their opinion.
"He is not being deprived of his liberty (at the embassy) due to any decision or action taken by the Swedish authorities," they said, adding that the government could not in any case interfere with an ongoing case handled by a Swedish public prosecutor.
UK calls UN Assange report 'ridiculous'
A spokesman for British prime minister David Cameron called the UN panel's opinion "ridiculous".
"He has never been arbitrarily detained in this country," the spokesman said. "It is entirely his choice to remain in the Ecuadorian embassy and he is avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain there."
He added that the UN panel was made up of lay people, not lawyers, and that Mr Assange had lost every legal challenge to the proceedings against him.
And the British Foreign Office said the UN panel opinion "changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention."
The spokesman 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 him to Sweden."
He said it was up to Ecuador to resolve the situation by negotiating with Sweden.
The Working Group's decision also met with some ridicule among lawyers on Twitter. Barrister and former government lawyer Carl Gardner said the working group's argument was "awfully reasoned".
"At no point does [the group] consider whether Julian Assange might be even partly responsible for any of the delay, uncertainty or 'indefinite procrastination'," he wrote.
And English lawyer and writer David Allen Green called the UN opinion "barmy" and "the daftest human rights opinion you will ever read".
"If someone can leave a property as they wish, and once outside has to comply only with the law of the land, it is not 'arbitrary detention'," he said on Twitter.