WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange declared an "important victory" at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after Swedish prosecutors dropped a rape investigation against him on Friday.
However, he may not be able to leave the embassy just yet. Assange is still wanted by British police on charges of skipping bail and taking refuge in the embassy. Should the Wikileaks founder set foot out of the building, he faces immediate arrest. CGTN correspondent Richard Bestic says, while it's a lesser charge than rape, if Assange is arrested it would give the United States the time it needs to seek his extradition on charges of leaking top secret documents. Assange has called the charges against him politically motivated.
"Detention and extradition without charge has become a feature of the European Union - a feature which has been exploited, yes, in my case, for political reasons,” said the whistleblower.
Swedish prosecutors earlier said they're dropping the rape case against him only because there's no realistic prospect of getting Assange before a court. Though the charges have been dropped, Assange's situation appears no less complicated. And his uncertain future inside the embassy walls remains shrouded in doubt.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo in April described WikiLeaks as a "hostile intelligence service,” suggesting Assange has legitimate fears that he could end up in the US on espionage charges.
On Friday, Assange said, "Today is an important victory for me and for the UN human rights system. It by no means erases seven years of detention without charge, imprisoned under house arrest and almost five years here in this embassy without sunlight. Seven years without charge, why my children grew up without me? That is not something that I can forgive, it is not something that I can forget”.
He also warned the press that despite the victory, "the proper war" is just commencing. Assange said he's happy to engage with the US Justice Department, adding that WikiLeaks will continue publication.
In response to British police's announcement that they would arrest him if he left Ecuador's Embassy, Assange said he has the right to asylum and it's untenable for the UK to arrest him for seeking asylum.
Xinhua News Agency reports that Assange may now ask France for political asylum, after Swedish prosecutors closed the seven-year preliminary investigation into the rape allegation.
Swedish Prosecutor Marianne Ny (L) holds a press conference in Stockholm on May 19, 2017. /AFP Photo
"Director of Public Prosecution, Marianne Ny, has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange," according to a statement.
Julian Assange is seen through a window at the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London. /VCG Photo
British police to arrest Assange if he leaves embassy
On Assange's possible arrest, Prime Minister Theresa May said it would be an operational matter for police to decide.
Assange, 45, has stayed in the embassy in London since 2012, after taking refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden over the rape allegation, which he denies.
Assange, who had a rape investigation against him in Sweden dropped on May 19, 2017, has lived in Ecuador's embassy in London for nearly five years to avoid arrest. /AFP Photo
Assange could face a maximum jail term of one year for skipping bail, AFP reported, citing a spokesman for the state Crown Prosecution Service.