A United Nations panel has decided that Julian Assange’s three-and-a-half years in the Ecuadorian embassy amount to “arbitrary detention”, leading his lawyers to call for the Swedish extradition request to be dropped immediately.

A Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed that the UN panel, due to publish its findings on Friday, had concluded that Assange was “arbitrarily detained”.

The WikiLeaks founder sought asylum from Ecuador in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations, which he denies.

The panel’s findings were disclosed to the Swedish and British governments on 22 January, and will be published on Friday morning. Their judgment is not legally binding but can be used to apply pressure on states in human rights cases.

Anna Ekberg, spokesperson for the Swedish foreign ministry, said: “The UN working group on arbitrary detention has concluded that Mr Assange is arbitrarily detained. The working group’s view differs from that of the Swedish authorities. We will forward a reply to the working group tomorrow. It will be more clear tomorrow why we reject the working group’s conclusions.”

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