Defiant Assange says 'war is just commencing' after Sweden drops rape case
WikiLeaks founder still faces arrest for jumping bail in U.K.
Julian Assange says Sweden's decision on Friday to drop a rape investigation against him is "an important victory for me and for the UN human rights system."
Speaking from the balcony of Ecuador's London Embassy, the WikiLeaks founder said his seven-year legal ordeal — which a United Nations panel described as an unjust detention — "is not something that I can forgive."
He added his battle is not over and the "proper war is just commencing."
Sweden's top prosecutor said earlier in the day she is dropping the investigation, ending a legal standoff that has included Assange's five-year stay at the embassy.
Marianne Ny said she has withdrawn a European arrest warrant for Assange after concluding that it won't be possible to bring him to Sweden.
"[Assange] has tried to dodge all attempts to avoid Swedish and British legal authorities," Ny told a news conference in Stockholm. "My assessment is the transfer cannot be carried out in a foreseeable future."
Officials said in a statement that, under Swedish law, investigations must be completed as quickly as possible and must be dropped "when a prosecutor has exhausted the possibilities."
Ny added the investigation could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations lapses in 2020. The case was first opened in 2010.
The move does not clear Assange's name, however, and some experts say it puts him into an even more precarious legal situation if the U.S. has — as some suspect — a sealed indictment for his arrest. Assange is still wanted in Britain on a five-year-old bail jumping charge.
Assange, 45, took refuge in Ecuador's London embassy in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. He has been there ever since, fearing that if he is arrested he might ultimately be extradited to the U.S. to face charges related to WikiLeaks's publication of classified American documents.
A little-known UN panel, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said last year Assange has been a victim of an "arbitrary detention" because of the standoff.
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Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for one of the women, called it a "scandal that a suspected rapist can avoid the judicial system and thus avoid a trial in court."
Assange's lawyer, Per Samuelson, called the development "a total victory."
He said Assange had convinced Swedish prosecutors during a November meeting last year that he was not guilty of any sex offences.
"The truth is, he gave a very good explanation: this was consensual sex between two adults and nothing else. And he's a free man," Samuelson said.
Shortly after the news broke, Assange tweeted a photo of himself, smiling broadly.
London's police service has said Assange will be arrested if he leaves the embassy, though officials appeared to hint on Friday that this is not a top priority.
"Mr. Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence," than the original rape charge, the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement.
"The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence."
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Guillaume Long tweeted Friday that Britain "must now grant safe passage" to Assange. The South American country has granted him asylum.
But U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to distance herself from any lingering diplomatic complications, remarking that any decision about Assange will be an "operational matter for the police."
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A British government source would not confirm or deny if the U.S. had made a request to extradite Assange. A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson on Friday also declined to comment on the case.
Assange and WikiLeaks have repeatedly infuriated U.S. officials with the widespread release of sensitive secret documents related to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and diplomatic relations around the world. WikiLeaks also had a provocative role in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign when it published emails written by Hillary Clinton's campaign officials.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo last month called WikiLeaks a "hostile intelligence service," and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, responding to a question about Assange, said the administration was stepping up its efforts against all leaks of sensitive information.
Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning served seven years in prison for giving classified material to WikiLeaks. She was freed Wednesday, having had her sentence commuted by former president Barack Obama before he left office.
With files from CBC News and The Associated Press