Julian Assange, the Swedish snowy-haired opinion-divider, founded the website Wikileaks ten years ago. In 2010 the website made headlines by releasing footage showing US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq. That same year, Sweden put out an international arrest warrant on him for charges of rape and sexual assault against two women that summer. Assange was arrested in London in 2010.
Months of legal battles followed. When it seemed he was about to be sent to Sweden to face trial for rape, Assange sought political asylum in the London Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012. He has stayed in that Embassy for three-and-a-bit years. According to leaked documents from the Embassy he’s not having a fun time there.
A UN panel found that all this time he was being arbitrarily detained by the UK. That means they think he was illegally deprived of his freedom, that he should now walk free and both him and the Embassy should be compensated. The UK government dismissed this as “ridiculous” – and are now in a very sticky situation. Do they uphold their legal obligation to send Assange to face trial in Sweden, or do they stick to this interpretation of international law from the UN?
Does it even make sense to argue that Assange was arbitrarily detained? Both the Guardian and the Telegraph think it’s a pretty illogical step from the United Nations. Assange voluntarily holed himself up in that Embassy, rather than face fair trial on charges for rape that he denies. Should the UK be blamed?
On the other hand, Assange knows that those charges are not the only thing facing him if he leaves the Embassy. If he goes to Sweden, he might end up being sent to the US and put on trial for releasing secret US documents, where he fears facing the death penalty. Chelsea Manning, who helped leak these documents, got 35 years in jail. Could we really say he’s voluntarily staying in the Embassy or is he avoiding arrest?
Whistleblowers are a tricky bunch – are they heroes of truth or do they put people in danger?
Sorry peeps – we usually try to leave you less conflicted than when you arrived. But this is a weird one.