Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, is finally free to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London whenever he wishes to do so. Sweden’s top prosecutor, Marianne Ny, on Friday released a statement announcing that the rape charges against Mr. Assange had been dropped. However, Scotland Yard quickly responded to the news by warning Assange that he would be arrested if he attempted to leave the embassy.
The Washington Post reported that in response to the news, Per E Samuelsson, Assange’s Swedish lawyer, told a local radio station that this is a “total victory for Julian Assange.”
“This is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants. We have won the Assange case. He is, of course, happy and relieved. He has been critical that it has lasted that long.”
It has been nearly seven years since the charges of rape, and sexual assault were brought against Julian Assange. It was alleged that Assange had raped two women, and sexually assaulted another. The charges against Assange were brought by Swedish authorities in August 2010 but were soon dropped. The sexual assault charge was pursued instead. However, in September of the same year, the rape case was re-opened, and a Swedish judge ordered that Assange is detained pending questioning by police.
The charges were amended to a count of “unlawful coercion,” two counts of sexual assault, and one count of rape. An international warrant for his arrest was soon issued, but Mr. Assange has repeatedly denied the allegations against him. According to Assange, the case was established as an attempt to discredit his reputation.
At the time of the alleged offenses, Assange had been engaged in releasing information on Wikileaks regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Assange responded to the international arrest warrant by seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, officially designated as Ecuadorian territory within London, and has been residing there since June 2012.
Ecuador motivated their decision for granting Assange asylum by saying that they had a long tradition of protecting people who were at risk and vulnerable. At the time, the Foreign Minster for Ecuador, Ricardo Patino, concluded that it was Mr. Assange’s human rights that would be in danger of being violated if he were to be extradited to Sweden. There was, however, one particular condition to Assange’s stay at the embassy. Minister Patino said that Assange would be prohibited from “making political statements that could affect [Ecuador’s] relations with friendly countries.”
In 2015, the BBC reported that Mr. Assange had been informed by the Swedish government – in particular, Director of Prosecutions Marianne Ny – that “a formal decision to indict may not be taken at the stage that the criminal process is currently at. Julian Assange’s case is currently at the stage of ‘preliminary investigation.'”
Assange’s lawyers immediately moved to request the U.K. Supreme Court to block the extradition on account of a European warrant being “invalid and unenforceable” on United Kingdom soil. In May 2012, the Supreme Court found that Marianne Ny indeed had the “judicial authority” to issue and enact upon a warrant issued in Sweden.
Julian Assange defied a request for a censure on information regarding the investigation by issuing a statement containing the response he had given to Swedish authorities during a questioning session in London. In the statement, Assange attacked Marianne Ny for conducting the interview as “a ruse to tick a box to ensure the technical possibility to indict [Assange].” According to Swedish law, a suspect must be interviewed first before formal charges can be brought.
Nevertheless, Julian Assange is now a free man. On Friday, Marianne Ny said in an announcement that her office “has decided to discontinue the investigation.” Assange is thus no longer under investigation for the alleged sexual crimes. It also means that Assange may now leave the Ecuadorian embassy at any time.
Top investigator, Marianne Ny said that “all prospects of pursuing the investigation” against Assange “are exhausted.”
“In view of the fact that all prospects of pursuing the investigation under present circumstances are exhausted, it appears that it is no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence. Consequently, there is no basis upon which to continue the investigation.”
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) May 19, 2017
Unfortunately for Assange, the British police are still going to arrest him if he steps out of the embassy onto British territory. Scotland Yard intends to act on a warrant for Assange’s arrest that was issued after he defied a bail order in 2012. According to the Metropolitan Police, it “is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.” However, a police spokesperson added that the charges would now likely drop in severity.
“Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence. The MPS will not comment further on the operational plan.”
After the announcement by Swedish authorities, Wikileaks tweeted that the “UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to U.K.”
Last month U.S. President Donald Trump said that “it’s OK with [him]” if the U.S. Justice Department decides to charge Assange. Trump distanced himself from the decision-making process, adding that he would support Attorney General Jeff Sessions either way. Mr. Sessions has expressed a desire to arrest Assange, stating that the Justice Department would prioritize the prosecution of any operatives who leak classified information, potentially placing U.S. national security at risk.
UK states it will arrest Assange regardless & refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received an extradition request from the US.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 19, 2017
Last year, the United Nations launched an investigation into the veracity of the motivations for detaining Assange in Sweden. The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Assange had been “arbitrarily detained by the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” Furthermore, the ruling determined that by international law standards, Assange was entitled to the fundamental human right of freedom of movement.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 19, 2017
The findings by the United Nations in this case, however, are not legally binding.
[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]