Britain today said it will arrest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange if he leaves the Ecuadorean Embassy here, where he is holed up since June 2012 to avoid a European arrest warrant against him over allegations of rape in Sweden.
“An allegation of rape is still outstanding and a European arrest warrant in place, so the UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden,” a UK government spokesperson said.
The UK government statement comes a day ahead of a ruling by the UN’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on whether the time the 44-year-old Australian national spent inside the Embassy amounts to illegal detention.
While, no official announcement has been made by the UN panel, the BBC reported that it understands the decision has been made in Assange’s favour.
Earlier, Assange had promised to surrender to the police if the UN panel rules that the three years he was holed up inside the Embassy does not amount to illegal detention.
In a statement issued by Wikileaks on Twitter, he said: “Should the UN announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the UK and Sweden, I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday (February 5) to accept arrest by British police as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal.
“However, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and termination of further attempts to arrest me.”
Assange was granted political asylum by the Ecuador government in 2012.
In 2014, he complained to the UN that he was being “arbitrarily detained” as he could not leave without being arrested.
The UK Foreign Office, on the other hand, claimed Assange had voluntarily avoided lawful detention, saying it still had an obligation to extradite him.
Scotland Yard also said the arrest warrant against Assange remains in place and he is likely to be arrested if he decides to step out of his hideout.
Assange sought political asylum at the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden as he feared being transported to the US to be quizzed over the activities of WikiLeaks that caused considerable harm to the US foreign policy interests.
He is wanted for questioning in Sweden over rape and sex assault allegations against two women, which he has always denied.
Last month, it emerged that Assange will be questioned by Swedish authorities over the allegations at his Ecuadorean embassy hideout in London.