Showing posts with label Julian Assange. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Julian Assange. Show all posts

Thursday, 4 February 2016

What next for Julian Assange?

As a UN panel is set to rule that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been "arbitrarily detained", what does it mean for him and how did it come about?

Who is he?

 Julian Assange, a highly-driven man with an exceptional ability to crack computer codes, set up Wikileaks - which publishes confidential documents and images - in 2006. He first made headlines around the world in April 2010 when the website released footage showing US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq. His supporters see him as a valiant campaigner for truth, but to his critics, he is a publicity-seeker who has endangered lives by putting a mass of sensitive information into the public domain.

What's happened so far?

In 2012, Mr Assange took refuge in London's Ecuadorean embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault claim, which he denies. He claimed asylum there after the UK Supreme Court ruled the extradition against him could go ahead - and has been there ever since.

Why is he in the embassy?

If he steps out of the embassy, he will likely be arrested. A warrant for his arrest is still in place in the UK. The 44-year-old fears that if he goes to Sweden, he will be sent to the US to answer charges of espionage relating to WikiLeaks' publication of secret US documents.

Why did the UN panel get involved?

In 2014, Mr Assange complained to the panel, saying he was being "arbitrarily detained" as he could not leave without being arrested. He argued that living in 30 square metres of the embassy with no sunlight or fresh air had taken a "significant toll" on his mental health.

Who is on it?

The UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention - to give it its full title - is made up of legal experts from around the world. Established in 1991, it has made hundreds of rulings on whether imprisonment or detention is lawful, which have helped to influence governments to release people. High profile complainants have included Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian who was released in Iran last month; former pro-democracy President Mohamed Nasheed, released in the Maldives last year, and Myanmar stateswoman Aung San Suu Kyi. Previous rulings by the panel have gone against countries with some of the world's worst human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Egypt. A decision against Sweden and Britain in favour of Mr Assange is likely to be controversial.

What is it ruling on?

It investigates whether states are in compliance with human rights obligations. In this case, it would have received submissions from Mr Assange and the UK and Swedish governments, before deciding whether the case amounted to arbitrary detention. The panel made its decision in December and has informed the British and Swedish government. It will formally announce its findings on Friday, but the BBC understands it will find Mr Assange has been "arbitrarily" detained.

What are its powers?

It does not have any formal influence over the British or Swedish authorities. The UK Foreign Office said Mr Assange had voluntarily avoided lawful detention and it still has an obligation to extradite him.

Mr Assange is likely to argue that the panel's decision is significant and adds considerable legal and moral force to the argument that he has been arbitrarily detained.

Is the UK government likely to budge?

No. A government spokesman said it had been "consistently clear" that Mr Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK. He was, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy, he added. "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," he said.

What's going to happen next?

Mr Assange earlier tweeted that he would hand himself over to the police at noon on Friday if the panel ruled against him, but if the decision went his way, he wanted his passport back and an end to efforts to arrest him.