UK Still Plans to Arrest Him
by Kennedy Applebaum
February 4, 2016
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks and acclaimed whistleblower who has published numerous documents revealing crimes of the US government, has been declared, by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) based in Geneva, as “illegally detained” during his 3.5 year stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Assange took refuge at the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for investigation into what are believed to be false allegations of sexual assault, as well as potential further extradition to the United States for inquiries into possible espionage. The UN finding is both a moral triumph for Assange and a confirmation of the universal right of freedom of the press.
The UN panel, headed by South Korean academic Seong-Phil Hong, is authorised to investigate complaints from individuals on whether countries are adhering to international legal standards on detention. According to The Guardian, Seong-Phil Hong “has worked as a conciliator for the World Bank and also dealt with North Korean human rights and the issue of second world war sexual slavery. The other members of the panel are from Mexico, Benin, Australia and Ukraine.” The official announcement of the panel is to appear on Friday February 5.
According to an earlier Sputnik News report, the finding that Assange’s detention is illegal means “the United Kingdom and Sweden would immediately have to release him and pay compensation….’In that case we would expect the Swedish and the British authorities to react immediately to lift the arrest warrant on Sweden, and for the UK authorities to return his passport,’ Kristinn Hrafnsson said. According to Hrafnsson, it is expected that Assange should be able to travel anywhere if the United Nations were to rule in his favor. ‘I would simply not want to believe that these two countries, Sweden and the UK would disregard finding of such an important UN panel,’ the spokesman said.”
The verdict of the UN panel, however, is not binding on national governments. As a later Sputnik report says, “The UK authorities still have a legal obligation to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to Sweden due to a European arrest warrant in place, according to a UK government spokesperson.”
British officials have stated Assange will still be arrested if he leaves the embassy, despite the UN findings, and extradited to Sweden in a sexual assault investigation, allegations Assange denies. According to NBC News, “The investigation into allegations of sexual assault was dropped in August 2015 because prosecutors ran out of time to bring charges, but prosecutors said they would continue investigation [into] a further allegation of rape.” That these are trumped-up charges is suspected but unproven. [February 5 update: see Observer commentary Exclusive New Docs Throw Doubt on Julian Assange Rape Charges in Stockholm, by Celia Farber, February 5, 2016.]
The danger of extradition to Sweden is that the Swedish government may then extradite the WikiLeaks founder to the United States, where possible espionage charges might be brought for Assange’s publication of sensitive government documents. “Assange has expressed fear that if Britain extradites him to Sweden he would then be extradited to the United States to face trial,” reports NBC News.
The Guardian quotes the opinions of two legal experts on how the UN finding might impact Assange’s case: “Mark Ellis, executive director of the London-based International Bar Association, said: ‘The information seems to suggest that the UN panel has found in Assange’s favour. That decision would seem to contradict a fairly extensive legal process both in the UK and in Sweden. It’s important to maintain adherence to rule of law principles and ensure that individuals have to abide by legal rulings. It’s surprising to think that Assange could be exempted from those principles. The ruling by the UN panel is not binding on British law. It would, however, provide Assange with support for his claim that he should not be extradited. I’m sure the UK is trying to figure a way out.” In another opinion, according to The Guardian: “Kirsty Brimelow QC, of Doughty Street Chambers, an expert in international law tribunals, said: ‘A finding by UNWGAD against the UK is not binding. It has no enforcement power. However, a finding that the UK has acted in a way which is inconsistent with relevant international standards should not be ignored by the UK. The UK should not act contrary to international law.’”
The Guardian goes on to conclude, “A clash between the moral authority of the United Nations and the stalled mechanism of the European extradition against Julian Assange is likely to provoke diplomatic anxiety inside Whitehall. The UN body’s expected ruling, at the very least, constitutes a publicity coup for Assange and his supporters. Both the UK and Sweden are active upholders of the United Nations. Neither will relish the prospect of having to answer to the UN’s human rights council about why they have failed to enforce the panel’s decision.”
Unlike Edward Snowden, who violated his security clearance to reveal damning US documents in an act of civil disobedience, Julian Assange may not be technically guilty of breaking US law, a determination that could involve complex legal arguments.
According to the Legal Information Institute, applicable law is documented in 18 U.S. Code § 798 – Disclosure of classified information:
(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information—–
(1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code, cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any foreign government; or
(2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or planned for use by the United States or any foreign government for cryptographic or communication intelligence purposes; or
(3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or
(4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government, knowing the same to have been obtained by such processes—–
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
In certain previous cases, journalists reporting information obtained from third parties who leaked classified documents have not themselves been charged with espionage, a fundamental principle of freedom of the press. This is in contrast to persons who themselves hold security clearances, such as Hillary Clinton or Win Ho Lee, and violate the terms of their clearance, which is unambiguously illegal.
Wikipedi offers the following summary of Julian Assange’s enterprise:
WikiLeaks is an international, non-profit, journalistic organisation that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. Its website, initiated in 2006 in Iceland by the organization Sunshine Press, claimed a database of more than 1.2 million documents within a year of its launch. Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, is generally described as its founder, editor-in-chief, and director. Kristinn Hrafnsson, Joseph Farrell, and Sarah Harrison are the only other publicly known and acknowledged associates of Julian Assange.
Supporters of Julian Assange who are able to be in London tomorrow are urged to show solidarity: Friday, February 5, 1pm till around 3.30, at the Ecuadorian Embassy, Hans Crescent, London SW1. Click here for more information.
© 2016 Kennedy Applebaum, Quemado Institute