Julian Assange has accused Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, of insulting the UN in his response to a panel finding that Assange’s circumstances amount to “arbitrary detention”.Hammond called the panel’s finding “ridiculous” and said the Wikileaks founder was a “fugitive from justice”. Assange, who fled to the Ecquadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault, said the remarks were “beneath the stature that a foreign minister should express in this situation”.Assange said of the panel’s finding: “This is the end of the road for the legal arguments that have been put forward by Sweden and the UK.”As anticipated, the finding by the Geneva-based UN panel criticised legal action against Assange by the UK and Sweden and blamed them for preventing him from leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge.The panel called on the Swedish and British authorities to end Assange’s “deprivation of liberty”, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement and offer him compensation.The report said: “The working group considered that Mr Assange has been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth prison, which was followed by house arrest and his confinement at the Ecuadorian embassy.
“Having concluded that there was a continuous deprivation of liberty, the working group also found that the detention was arbitrary because he was held in isolation during the first stage of detention and because of the lack of diligence by the Swedish prosecutor in its investigations, which resulted in the lengthy detention of Mr Assange.”Appearing at a west London press conference by videolink from the Ecuadorian embassy, where he has remained since seeking asylum in 2012, Assange said that if Sweden and the UK continued to dispute the report, “the diplomatic effect is that it will become difficult for [the two countries] to be treated seriously as international players”.He said they could become subject to penalties “up to and including sanctions”, though that would be a matter for the UN.
Closing his remarks, Assange said: “I miss my family. I have today a really significant victory that has brought a smile to my face.”Many international reporters and more than 25 film crews crammed into the small upper room at the Frontline Club for the noon press conference, with some forced to stand on chairs and benches to get a view.Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish judge who heads Assange’s international legal team, said the arrest warrant against his client was now “empty and void”. Garzón, who came to prominence in 1998 when he issued an arrest warrant for Chile’s former president Augusto Pinochet, said any continuation of Assange’s confinement “becomes a form of torture”.