WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won an apparent victory Friday, when the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions said he had been unfairly detained in the U.K.
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The Australian publisher and journalist took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London on June 19, 2012, more than 3½ years ago, and hasn't been out since. If he goes outside, he would be arrested by British police. Citing its legal obligations under a European arrest warrant, the U.K. wants to send him to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over claims of sexual assault — claims Assange denies.
Here are four things you need to know about Assange's current situation:
1. Moral victory
The UN ruling is a "vindication" from Assange's point of view, but the U.K. is having none of it. Foreign Minister Philip Hammond tweeted Friday that Assange remains "a fugitive from justice." The U.K. regards Assange's presence in the embassy — technically in Ecuador — as voluntary, so he can leave anytime he wants.
His lawyer, Per Samuelsson, has been quoted as saying Sweden should now drop its attempt to extradite Assange.
2. Legal interpretations
Lawyers in Britain who follow matters of international law agreed the UN ruling has no legal effect there, but they also recognized the potential to embarrass the British government.
"A finding that the U.K. has acted in a way which is inconsistent with relevant international standards should not be ignored by the U.K.," the Guardian newspaper quoted lawyer and international law expert Kirsty Brimelow as saying. "The U.K. should not act contrary to international law."
3. Ready to give up
Assange was ready to give up, had he lost his appeal to the UN panel. "Should the UN announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdon and Sweden, I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by the British police," he tweeted Thursday.
4. Not universally popular
The U.K., Swedish and U.S. governments aren't Assange's only critics.
Joan Smith, chair of the mayor of London's Violence Against Women and Girls Panel, wrote in the Telegraph on Thursday that Assange is "is an increasingly seedy individual who is seeking immunity from the criminal justice systems of two democratic countries."
She also likened him to U.S. comedian Bill Cosby, who is facing sexual assault charges in Philadelphia after years of accusations.