WikiLeaks' Assange 'unlawfully detained' in Ecuador embassy, UN panel to rule, BBC says

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WikiLeaks' Assange to Leave Embassy If Loses UN Case

SYDNEY/LONDON (Reuters) -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's three-and-a-half-year stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London amounts to 'unlawful detention', a United Nations panel examining his appeal will rule on Friday, the BBC reported.

Assange, a former computer hacker who has been holed up in the embassy since June 2012, told the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that he was a political refugee whose rights had been infringed by being unable to take up asylum in Ecuador.

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WikiLeaks' Assange 'unlawfully detained' in Ecuador embassy, UN panel to rule, BBC says
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds a banner outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he marks three years since Assange claimed asylum in the embassy on June 19, 2015. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange clocks up three years inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London today, after claiming that Swedish prosecutors cancelled a landmark meeting in his case earlier this week. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds banners outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he marks three years since Assange claimed asylum in the embassy on June 19, 2015. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange clocks up three years inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London today, after claiming that Swedish prosecutors cancelled a landmark meeting in his case earlier this week. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold placards during a vigil across the street from the Ecuador embassy in London, Friday, June 19, 2015. Julian Assange is marking the third anniversary of his stay inside Ecuador's London embassy. The WikiLeaks founder entered the building on June 19, 2012, to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sexual assaults. British police stand outside, ready to arrest him if he leaves. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold placards during a vigil across the street from the Ecuador embassy in London, Friday, June 19, 2015. Julian Assange is marking the third anniversary of his confinement inside Ecuador's London embassy. The WikiLeaks founder entered the building on June 19, 2012, to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sexual assaults, and the British police stand outside the embassy, ready to arrest him if he leaves. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, centre back, talks to the media, with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, back right, during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange he confirmed he "will be leaving the embassy soon", Monday Aug. 18, 2014. The Australian, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over allegations of sex crimes. (AP Photo / John Stillwell, POOL)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he confirmed he "will be leaving the embassy soon", Monday Aug. 18, 2014. The Australian Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over allegations of sex crimes. (AP Photo / John Stillwell, POOL)
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, centre back, talks to the media, with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, back right, during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange he confirmed he "will be leaving the embassy soon", Monday Aug. 18, 2014. The Australian, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over allegations of sex crimes. (AP Photo / John Stillwell, POOL)
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, left, shakes hands with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Monday Aug. 18, 2014, where Assange confirmed he "will be leaving the embassy soon". The Australian Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over allegations of sex crimes. (AP Photo / John Stillwell, POOL)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he confirmed he "will be leaving the embassy soon", Monday Aug. 18, 2014. The Australian Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over allegations of sex crimes. (AP Photo / John Stillwell, POOL)
WikiLeak's spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, left, talks to Julian Assange's lawyers Per E Samuelsson and Tomas Olsson, right, after a public court hearing in Stockholm on Wednesday July 16, 2014. A Swedish court on Wednesday upheld its detention order on Julian Assange, reaffirming the legal basis for an international warrant for the WikiLeaks founder which has kept him hiding in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for two years. One of Assange's defense lawyers, Per Samuelson, said they would study the judge's decision in detail and then "write a juicy, toxic appeal" to a higher court. (AP Photo/TT, Roger Vikstrom) SWEDEN OUT
Julian Assange's lawyer Tomas Olsson, center, talks to media prior to a public court hearing in Stockholm on Wednesday July 16, 2014. The court will determine if a 4-year old arrest warrant against Julian Assange the WikiLeaks founder for alleged sexual assault should be dropped. (AP Photo/Roger Vikstrom) SWEDEN OUT
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to mark his two years in refuge at the embassy, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Julian Assange entered the embassy in June 2012 to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sex crimes, which he denies.(AP Photo/Sang Tan)
A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds on to a placard with his teeth during a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to mark his two years in refuge at the embassy, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Julian Assange entered the embassy in June 2012 to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Fugitive WikLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks via Skype at the South By SouthWest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, Saturday, March 8, 2014. Assange's appearance underscores the increasing attention that the technology industry is paying to issues of online privacy, security and surveillance. (AP Photo/Barbara Ortutay)
A placard showing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set up as voters line up to fill in their ballots at a polling booth at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Australians headed to the polls on Saturday in an election that pits a ruling party marred by infighting and a much-maligned carbon tax against a conservative opposition led by a man who has never been particularly popular and has long been polarizing. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
FILE - In this July 30, 2013 file photo released by Sunshine Press Productions, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sits inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. WikiLeaks founder and Australian Senate candidate Assange says he is proud of the level of support he enjoys in his home country weeks ahead of federal elections. The 42-year-old fugitive told Ten Network television in an interview filmed in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and broadcast in Australia on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, that his popularity demonstrated by a recent opinion poll reflected poorly on the ruling Labor Party. (AP Photo/ Sunshine Press Productions, File)
FILE - This June 12, 2013 file photo released by Calle 13 shows Rene Perez Joglar, better known as Residente from the Latin music group Calle 13, left, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during a songwriting session at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. On Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, Calle 13 launched its song “Multi_Viral” made with the collaboration of Assange, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Palestinian singer Kamilya Jubran. (AP Photo/Calle 13, File)
This film publicity image released by Focus World shows Julian Assange in a scene from the documentary, "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks." (AP Photo/Focus World)
This June 12, 2013 photo released by Calle 13 shows René Pérez Joglar, better known as, Residente, from the Latin music group Calle 13, right, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during a songwriting session at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Residente traveled to London to collaborate with Assange on a song about censorship. (AP Photo/Calle 13)
This film publicity image released by Focus World shows Julian Assange in a scene from the documentary, "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks." (AP Photo/Focus World)
FILE - This is a Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. file photo of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks as he speaks to the media and members of the public from a balcony at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Assange has asked Swedish police to investigate what happened to a suitcase he suspects was stolen from him when he traveled from Sweden to Germany in 2010. Assange's lawyer, Per Samuelson, says he filed a criminal complaint with an affidavit by Assange to police at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport on Tuesday Sept. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
In this Sept. 26, 2012 image taken from Russia Today, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks inside Ecuador's embassy in London, Britain. Assange accused President Barack Obama on Thursday of seeking to exploit the Arab uprisings for personal political gain, as he addressed a sideline meeting of the U.N. General Assembly via videolink from his hideout at the London embassy. (AP Photo/Russia Today via AP video) RUSSIA OUT, TV OUT
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Reuters was unable immediately to confirm the BBC report and the UN said the panel's opinion, which is not legally binding, was due to be published on Friday.

Britain said it had never arbitrarily detained Assange and that the Australian had voluntarily avoided arrest by jumping bail to flee to the embassy.

It said Assange will be arrested if he leaves the embassy and then extradited to Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape in 2010. Assange denies the rape allegations.

"Should the U.N. announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden, I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal," Assange said in a statement posted on the Wikileaks Twitter account.

"However, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me."

A decision in his favor would mark the latest twist in a tumultuous journey for Assange since he incensed the United States and its allies by using his WikiLeaks website to leak hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic and military cables in 2010, disclosures that often embarrassed Washington.

Assange, 44, fears Sweden will extradite him to the United States, where he could be put on trial over WikiLeaks' publication of the classified military and diplomatic documents, one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.

He made international headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published classified U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.

Later that year, the group released over 90,000 secret documents detailing the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, followed by almost 400,000 internal U.S. military reports detailing operations in Iraq.

Those disclosures were followed by the release of more than 250,000 classified cables from U.S. embassies. It would go on to add almost three million more diplomatic cables dating back to 1973.

POLITICAL REFUGEE?

In his submission to the U.N. working group, a body of outside experts, Assange argued that his time in the embassy constituted arbitrary detention.

Assange says he is the victim of a witch hunt directed by the United States and that his fate is a test case for freedom of expression.

He said that he had been deprived of his fundamental liberties, including lack of access to sunlight or fresh air, adequate medical facilities, as well as legal and procedural insecurity.

"We have been consistently clear that Mr Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy," a British government spokeswoman 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 Mr Assange to Sweden," she said.

Per Samuelson, one of Assange's Swedish lawyers, said if the U.N. panel judged Assange's time in the embassy to be custody, he should be released immediately.

"It is a very important body that would be then saying that Sweden's actions are inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. And it is international common practice to follow those decisions," Samuelson told Reuters.

Since Assange's confinement, WikiLeaks has continued to publish documents on topics such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the world's biggest multinational trade deals, which was signed by 12 member nations on Thursday in New Zealand.

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