WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has condemned the "insulting" British government response to the UN ruling that he is being "arbitrarily detained" by hiding in an embassy to avoid extradition over alleged sexual offences.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention panel called on Swedish and British authorities to end Assange's "deprivation of liberty" but the Foreign office said: "This changes nothing."
Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said the ruling was “frankly ridiculous” and “flawed in law”. He said the 44-year-old was “hiding from justice".
Assange is wanted for questioning over an alleged sex offence in Sweden, which he denies, and is fighting against extradition. He has not left the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, west London, since June 2012.
Speaking via video link from the embassy, Assange called this response "insulting". He added the UN decision was was a "vindication" and supposed wrongful detention was "now a matter of settled law".
After speaking for 10 minutes, Assange closed by saying: "I would like to say thank you, that I miss my family. That we have today a really significant victory that has brought a smile to my face and I hope many others as well."
The UK government has confirmed that it will formally contest the opinion of the UN panel.
In a statement the Foreign Office said: "This changes nothing. We completely reject any claim that Julian Assange is a victim of arbitrary detention. The UK has already made clear to the UN that we will formally contest the working group’s opinion.
“Julian Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK. The opinion of the UN Working Group ignores the facts and the well-recognised protections of the British legal system. He is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorean embassy.
"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 him to Sweden. As the UK is not a party to the Caracas Convention, we do not recognise ‘diplomatic asylum’.
“We are deeply frustrated that this unacceptable situation is still being allowed to continue. Ecuador must engage with Sweden in good faith to bring it to an end. Americas Minister Hugo Swire made this clear to the Ecuadorean Ambassador in November, and we continue to raise the matter in Quito.”
A former WikiLeaks employee was among some to reject the statement that Assange is being "arbitrarily detained".
James Ball said: "If this is the new standard of arbitrary detention, pretty much every country in the world would have to let out most of their prisoners"
If this is the new standard of arbitrary detention, pretty much every country in the world would have to let out most of their prisoners— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) February 5, 2016
While others followed suit:
If someone is free to leave a property as they wish, and once outside expected to comply with the law, that is not 'arbitrary detention'.— David Allen Green (@DavidAllenGreen) February 5, 2016
The only person "arbitrarily detaining" Assange in an embassy was Assange.So presumably it's Assange who owes Assange compensation, right? 💁— Hadley Freeman (@HadleyFreeman) February 5, 2016
Sweden: "Mr #Assange is free to leave the Embassy at at any point. Thus, he is not being deprived of his liberty"— esther addley (@estheraddley) February 5, 2016
Jessica Elgot, a reporter for The Guardian, said that one member of the UN working group disagreed with his colleagues on Assange.
One member of the UN working group, Vladimir Tochilovsky, disagreed with his colleagues on Assange. This is his take pic.twitter.com/s9Zwaeoi00— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) February 5, 2016
Assange is due to take part in a news conference after the UN panel's decision.
He believes he will be transported to the United States to be quizzed over the activities of WikiLeaks if he is extradited to Sweden. There is an espionage case against him in the US.
He filed a complaint against Sweden and the UK in September 2014 which has been considered by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The group of legal experts has made previous rulings on whether imprisonment or detention is lawful, which have led to people being released but Swedish prosecutors said the ruling will have no impact on its investigation, while the UK Government will argue that it is an opinion rather than a legally binding decision.
Assange had said he would hand himself over to police for arrest on Friday if the UN group ruled that he had not been unlawfully detained.
The Metropolitan Police have said they will make "every effort" to arrest the WikiLeaks founder should he leave the embassy.
Police have ended a 24 hour guard outside the embassy, but the building remains under covert surveillance.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "The operation to arrest Julian Assange does however continue and should he leave the embassy the MPS will make every effort to arrest him."
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have been consistently clear that Mr Assange has never been arbitrarily detained by the UK but is, in fact, voluntarily avoiding lawful arrest by choosing to remain in the Ecuadorian embassy." 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 Mr Assange to Sweden."
A Downing Street spokesman declined to comment on leaks of the UN panel's reported finding, saying the Government would not respond until its official publication.But he added that the findings will not be "legally binding".