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Mixed reactions on social media to UN's Assange ruling

Francisco PerezFebruary 5, 2016

Social media users are divided after a UN ruling in favor of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was released. Some claim it is a victory for free speech, while others resent his refusal to face rape accusations in Sweden.

Großbritannien Assange PK via Skype
Image: Reuters/N. Hall

This morning a United Nations (UN) expert panel published a statement saying Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange should be allowed to walk free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has taken shelter for close to four years, after ruling that he has been "arbitrarily detained by the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom."

The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) slammed the entire legal procedure that has been taken against Assange, who has been under investigation in Sweden over an accusation of rape since August 2010.

Since then, he has been fighting extradition to the Scandinavian country from Britain, where he was imprisoned and then put under house arrest in 2011, before being granted asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012 after he lost his final appeal against extradition.

He has been unable to leave the South American country's embassy, as British authorities, who seized Assange’s passport, have made clear they would arrest the hacker if he were to leave the building.

Online, reactions to the report were mixed. On the one hand, supporters of Assange and Wikileaks, which has leaked thousands of documents revealing alleged human rights abuses and war crimes by governments, hailed the report as a victory for freedom of speech and information.

In Assange‘s native Australia, a small group of supporters took to the streets in the city of Brisbane to demand his release.

Critics of Assange were equally vocal, with many pointing out the severity of the accusations directed against Assange.

Following the announcement, both Sweden and the United Kingdom rejected the validity of the report. According to local media, Sweden’s Foreign Ministry made its opinion clear in a statement claiming the UN panel had no right to "interfere" with the Swedish prosecution, adding that Assange is "free to leave the embassy at any time, therefore he is not deprived of his liberty" as a result of any action directly taken by Sweden.

Britain’s Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, who had called the ruling "ridiculous," took to Twitter to denounce the UN panel’s findings.

In Ecuador, whose government has consistently supported Assange for the past three years, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño spoke to South American broadcaster TeleSur, describing the British and Swedish reactions as "intolerable."

"I don’t know what else they need to fix their mistake and compensate the victim," he added.

His critique was echoed by the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, who said Britain and Sweden’s refusal to follow a UN ruling would ultimately weaken the entire institution.

Assange reacted to the British and Swedish statements via video-link during a press conference held by his legal defense team at London’s Frontline Club.

He referred to the UN panel’s finding as a "vindication" and a "victory." He added that this was the "end of the road" for Britain and Sweden’s efforts to arrest him, calling on both countries to respect the ruling.

Assange had announced this week that had the UN ruled against him he would have handed himself over to the British authorities. The Australian has refused to surrender himself to the British and Swedish authorites for the last four years to avoid the possibility of being ultimately extradited to the United States, where he fears he would be tortured in captivity because of his involvement with Wikileaks.

Speaking from the balcony of the embassy, Assange discussed how difficult it is to be separated from his children.

"What right does this government or the US government or the Swedish government have to deny my children their father for five and half years without any charges in any country," he said to the cheering crowd.