The Saga of Julian Assange - The New York Times 20160207

The Saga of Julian Assange - The New York Times 20160207

Julian Assange


The curious case of Julian Assange got curiouser last week when a United Nations rights panel concluded that the WikiLeaks founder has been “arbitrarily detained” by Britain and Sweden for more than five years, including the past three and a half years that he has been holed up as a diplomatic refugee in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The finding, which is not legally enforceable, was “ridiculous,” responded the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond. But then so is much else in this convoluted saga, which should be drawn to a close.

Mr. Assange, 44, a onetime computer hacker with an Australian passport, has spent those five years fighting or evading British efforts to extradite him to Sweden, which says it wants to question him about accusations of rape. Mr. Assange and his backers say what is really going on is an attempt to extradite him to the United States to face charges for WikiLeaks’s role in receiving and publishing tens of thousands of secret American military and diplomatic cables in 2010. The New York Times and The Guardian also published many of the cables. Neither Sweden nor the United States has filed formal charges against Mr. Assange.

On Friday, the five-member United Nations “working group on arbitrary detention,” which is under the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and to which Mr. Assange appealed, declared that his ordeal amounted to being “subjected to different forms of deprivation,” which were arbitrary because of the “lack of diligence” by Swedish prosecutors.

Though Swedish prosecutors have said they only want to question Mr. Assange, they insisted that this must take place in Sweden — until last March, when they changed their mind and said they were willing to go to London. They haven’t yet, though Mr. Assange has said all along he’s agreeable to an interrogation there.

The United States also has not filed formal charges against Mr. Assange and what they would charge him with is not clear. In the end, the United Nations ruling, dubious as it may seem, might offer a way for Sweden and Britain to walk away from a case that has not made much sense from the outset.

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