What's the significance of Julian Assange's case?

LONDON -- There has been a flurry of activity and speculation in the case of Julian Assange, the outspoken WikiLeaks founder who has been squirreled away inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for more than three years to avoid questioning by Swedish authorities about sexual misconduct allegations.

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Assange says he fears being sent to the U.S. to face charges stemming from WikiLeaks' role in releasing secret documents and his legal team is seeking guarantees he won't be sent to the U.S. and put on trial there.

He received a boost Friday with publication of a UN panel's report that finds he has been treated unfairly.

Here is a summary of where things stand:

ASSANGE'S LEGAL STATUS

He is sought by Swedish authorities for questioning, but hasn't been charged with any crimes there. British police say they will arrest him if he walks out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. They reiterated that plan Thursday.

It's not clear if there has been a secret grand jury indictment against Assange in the U.S. He says that extradition to the U.S. is his main legal worry.

He denies allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden. Some of the allegations have been dropped by prosecutors, but he still is wanted for questioning about a possible rape.

UN PANEL'S POWERS

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention panel has no legal authority in the case, as British Prime Minister David Cameron's office pointed out Thursday. Its ruling has no legal impact on Swedish and British authorities.

But the ruling provides a welcome public relations boost for Assange and WikiLeaks and may bring pressure to bear on Swedish and British authorities.

If the Swedes decide not to seek Assange for questioning, the warrant for his arrest could be dropped. British police, however, could still arrest him for jumping bail, unless that charge was also dropped. And British police could still act if U.S. authorities are seeking his arrest and extradition, which would likely be a lengthy process.

UN PANEL'S ROLE

The five-member Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, associated with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, was founded in 1991 and generally is considered an authoritative body on international legal issues revolving around questions of whether people have been locked up without proper judicial oversight.

It is only an advisory body for governments, and its decisions aren't binding on nations - though its decisions can remind countries of their own commitments under international rules and law.

WikiLeaks and Assange sought the panel's ruling more than a year ago and it has been investigating the case for some time.

Associated Press writers Sylvia Hui in London, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.



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