Feb 5, 2016

UK, Sweden fast running out of excuses to detain Assange

A UN panel finding that Julian Assange has been arbitrarily detained shines a light on the deliberate strategy of the UK and Swedish governments to leave him in legal limbo.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

As anticipated, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) overnight announced it had found Julian Assange had been arbitrarily detained by the United Kingdom and Sweden. The British government, which was advised of the decision two weeks ago, leaked the news to the BBC yesterday. One immediate issue raised in press coverage of the announcement was that that the working group's decision isn't "legally binding" on the UK and Sweden. The UN Human Rights Office issued a statement claiming that the decision is legally binding, but that prompts the question of how exactly the UN thinks it can enforce it if the UK or Sweden decline to allow Assange to go free and give him safe passage to Ecuador, which has granted him asylum. The problem for the "not legally binding" argument, however, is that both the Swedish and British governments have willingly taken part in the WGAD process so far, providing detailed responses to Assange's initial complaint; to now dismiss the entire process as not legally binding and therefore irrelevant looks a lot like taking their bat and ball and going home. It's also ironic that governments that have steadfastly refused to pursue proper legal process for Assange would now cite the strict letter of the law in their response to the ruling. The UK Telegraph, which operates as a media arm of the Tory party, also ran a piece seeking to discredit the working group by claiming that 99% of its determinations favour complainants. The trouble with that angle is that many of the WGAD's findings (you can read the full list here) relate to governments such as China, Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, the Palestinian Authority and Russia -- all of which, presumably, Assange's critics are quite happy to see pilloried for their human rights abuses. Western countries occupy only a tiny fraction of the complaints to the working group, which is overwhelmingly focused on arbitrary detention in the Middle East, Africa and North Asia. That "99%" relates to the world's worst dictatorships, theocracies and tinpot tyrants, many of whom are hostile to the West. The official spin from the UK government is that "Mr. Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the U.K. but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy. The U.K. continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden.” As Crikey explained yesterday, the first point in fact is central to Assange's complaint to the WGAD: it has found that Assange's choice of either remaining confined to the Embassy or allowing himself to be arrested for extradition and possible rendition to the United States is detention, whether the British like it or not. And as WikiLeaks quickly pointed out, there is no extradition agreement between the UK and Sweden. Moreover, the European Arrest Warrant mechanism that applied to Assange has since been removed from British law. If the same circumstances occurred in 2016, the UK would not be able to send Assange to Sweden, courtesy of changes the Cameron government made to its own laws. As for the Swedes, their only response so far, apart from acknowledging the finding, has been to claim "the prosecutor responsible for the case is on a journey and has not yet been able to take a position on the latest development". Those who have followed the case will recognise yet another lame excuse from prosecutor Marianne Ny, who for over five years has been confecting excuses not to interview Assange either when he was in Sweden, when he was on bail in London or after he entered the Ecuadorean embassy. The ruling removes the Australia government's excuse for continuing inaction about Assange. In 2012, then-foreign minister Bob Carr moved heaven and earth to help get Australian International Criminal Court lawyer Melinda Taylor out of illegal detention in Libya. Now another international body has found that an Australian citizen is being arbitrarily detained and should be freed. At the time, Julie Bishop wondered why the Labor government hadn't intervened to help Assange in the same way that it intervened to help Taylor and other high-profile Australians detained overseas, saying "it is the inconsistency in the approach which is concerning me". Now she has the opportunity to make good on her own words. Assange's legal adviser Jennifer Robinson met with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in London this morning after writing to brief her and the Prime Minister on the decision. Also running out of excuses are the British and Swedish governments, whose joint policy of deliberately leaving Assange in legal limbo because of WikiLeaks' publications is now an increasing international embarrassment.

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17 thoughts on “UK, Sweden fast running out of excuses to detain Assange

  1. zut alors

    Do we actually think the Australian government will respect a ruling from the UN?

    Let’s hark back to their ruling on whether it was justified to invade Iraq – a firm ‘no’. Nevertheless, the USA, the UK & Australia defied the UN due to a common bond &/or self interest. The USA is itching to get its tentacles on Assange.

    Julie Bishop, we’re watching….

  2. Kevin Herbert

    The Australian Government has no influence in this sad saga whatsoever.

    As a vassal State of the US (as are the UK & Sweden), Canberra has to take its marching orders from the US State Department.

    Never forget that with more than 30% of Australia’s GDP exported annually to the US, Washington DC can send Australia’s economy into a tailspin in no time at all.

    Along with Japan, South Korea, Germany, Indonesia & the UK, we are merely servants of
    the Wall St-led neocon gang who control the US political system….and it’s this gang that want Assange imprisoned for the term of his natural life.

  3. James O'Neill

    If one is waiting for Julie Bishop to do anything consistent with legal principle it may be a long wait. Frankly, she is a pathetic embarrassment as a Foreign Minister as may be seen from her constant nonsense on Syria and Russia, and her conspicuous silence on the illegal activities of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

  4. Venise Alstergren

    ZUT: Are you suggesting our beloved government could be anything less than compassionate, wise, intelligent and not ridden with lobby groups; fundamentalist religious rat bags, and the innate honesty of someone like Peter Dutton?

  5. AR

    This decision will join the queue in usefulness with Angel PinHead dancing.
    Barring a total change in the US military/industrial complex, Assange can never feel free to walk unguarded & breathe free air.
    Clinton was asked about whether she would continue efforts to render him yesterday and say, with uncharacteristically little waffle, that she would.
    And, when all is said & done, it is far easier for the UK to flick him onto a black flight via Shannon to the Benighted States than Sweden. They’ve done it a number of times for alleged offences that are not even illegal under UK law.
    That is the true state of things under the Hegemon.
    Satraps, STFU!

  6. AR

    “..and said with uncharacteristically little waffle, that she would.”

  7. Marion Wilson

    Why is our Government making such a fuss about “withdrawal of citizenship” when it has made it clear that it will not do anything to protect us from unlawful behaviour by us and by foreign governments? Not just Julian Assange but also David Hicks, Vivian Salonge and Mamdouh Habib have been thrown to the wolves.

  8. Dogs breakfast

    Exactly Ms Wilson @7. Leave Australia and your on your own. Stay in Australia and the government wants to access every phone call, website visited, movements etc.

    Thank god we’re a free people.

    Not sure about your percentages Mr Herbert. Ross Gittins keeps reminding us that our economy is prtty stable around 80% internal, so hard to imagine how we would be exporting 30% to USA, who isn’t even our major trading partner (China!)

  9. AR

    Possibly KevH meant 30% of our trade, import & export.
    For the last 15-20 years, far & away our largest trade <deficit has been with our Great & Good Hegemon.

  10. AR

    ..sorree.. I’ll get the hang of this highlighting, later or sooner. Hopefully.

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