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UK says it will arrest Julian Assange even if UN rules in his favor

UN panel expected to determine tomorrow whether Assange has been illegally detained at the Ecuadorean embassy in London

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he will "accept arrest by British police" tomorrow if a UN panel rules that he has not been detained illegally at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) is expected to announce its decision on Friday. The BBC reports that the panel will rule in Assange's favor, but WikiLeaks says it is awaiting "official confirmation." British authorities have said they have an obligation to arrest Assange regardless of the panel's decision.

Assange received asylum at the embassy in 2012, after Swedish prosecutors sought to question him on accusations of rape and sexual assault in 2010. Assange has argued that the accusations are baseless and that Swedish authorities would extradite him to the US, where he could face charges related to the diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks has published.

"The UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden."

"Should the UN announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police as there is no meaningful prospect of further appeal," Assange said in a statement published to the WikILeaks Twitter account. "However, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me."

The UNWGAD has been studying Assange's case since 2014. In his complaint to the panel, Assange said that being confined to the Ecuadorian embassy had taken a "significant toll" on his health, and that he was being "arbitrarily detained." Swedish prosecutors dropped two sexual assault claims last year, after the statute of limitations expired, though he still faces an accusation of rape.

But even if the UNWGAD rules in Assange's favor, its decision will not be legally binding, and the British government says it has an obligation to arrest him if he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy.

"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 Ecuadorean embassy," a UK government spokesman tells the BBC. "The UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden."

The UN tribunal is expected to announce its decision Friday morning.