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U.N. Panel Concludes Julian Assange Is Being 'Arbitrarily Held'


One of the most wanted men in the world has been living for the past three and a half years in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, took refuge there to avoid going to Sweden to face an accusation of rape, which he denies, and also because he feared Sweden would allow him to be extradited to the United States. Assange asked a United Nations panel to support his contention he's being detained without cause and should go free, and the panel agreed. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us now from London. And, Leila, what was Assange's reaction to this decision?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, Assange and his legal team say this is a victory, and that Britain and Sweden have to comply now with the U.N. panel's ruling that has called for his freedom of movement and for compensation. Here's Assange at a press conference today.


JULIAN ASSANGE: I have been detained now without charge in this country, the United Kingdom, for five and a half years. Today, that detention without charge has been found by the highest organization in the United Nations to be unlawful.

FADEL: Now, he's been arbitrarily detained, the U.N. says, for over five years - from the first time he was arrested in London in 2010.

MONTAGNE: Right, and then three and a half years in the Ecuadorian Embassy. What did the panel find, exactly?

FADEL: They said that he is being deprived of freedom of movement, that he deserves compensation, and that the U.K. and Sweden must allow for his freedom of movement. Now, he's being accused of sexual misconduct in Sweden, and Sweden wants him extradited. The U.K. says they will send him back to Sweden for questioning.

MONTAGNE: And what has been the reaction from Sweden and also the U.K.?

FADEL: Well, they both dismissed the panel's opinion. They say it's not legally binding, that this is frankly ridiculous, as Britain's Foreign Minister put it this morning, that Assange has voluntarily been at that embassy as a fugitive hiding from justice, and that they will arrest him if he steps out of the embassy.

MONTAGNE: Just lastly, Leila, what about his fear of being extradited to the U.S.?

FADEL: Well, he has expressed fears that ultimately all of this is a ploy to get him to the U.S. so that he can be questioned and possibly jailed over the WikiLeaks dumps of classified documents that have exposed so many things globally, from unlawful killings to torture. So he has consistently said that this all a way to get him to the U.S. and possibly imprison him there. Now, the U.S. has not charged Assange or called for his extradition.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Leila Fadel speaking to us from London. Thanks very much.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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