Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, reaches deal with US in exchange for release

The activist is expected to plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Law, then be allowed to return home to Australia after having already spent five years in a UK prison

A still taken from a video released by Wikileaks shows Julian Assange boarding a plane at Stansted airport on 25 June 2024.
A still taken from a video released by Wikileaks shows Julian Assange boarding a plane at Stansted airport on 25 June 2024.WIKILEAKS/HANDOUT HANDOUT (EFE)
Miguel Jiménez

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 52, has decided to plead guilty as part of an agreement with the United States Department of Justice that allows him to be released and return to his native Australia after spending five years in a British prison. Assange is pleading guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act — conspiracy to disseminate national defense information — over his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic records in 2010, according to court documents.

The plea deal, which will have to be ratified on Wednesday, ends a long legal standoff with the United States. “Julian Assange is free,” read a post on Wikileaks’ X account. “He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of 24 June, after having spent 1901 days there. He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.” His wife Stella Assange tweeted: “Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU — yes YOU, who have all mobilised for years and years to make this come true.” She also posted a video showing the former hacker signing documents, traveling by van to Stansted airport and boarding a plane.

A filing made on Monday afternoon in a courthouse in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, and dated June 25 says that Assange “knowingly and unlawfully conspired” to “receive and obtain documents, writings, and notes connected with the national defense,” and “willfully communicate” that information to “persons not entitled to receive them.” Assange will appear in this courthouse on Wednesday, according to the filings. It is expected that the guilty plea and the agreement will be formalized there.

El cofundador de WikiLeaks Julian Assange camina hacía un avión en un aeropuerto en Londres, el 25 de junio.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walks to board a plane at a location given as London, Britain, in this still image from video released on June 25. "@wikileaks" via X (via REUTERS)

Assange is expected to appear before that court at 9 a.m. local time and be sentenced to about 62 months, the equivalent of the time he has already spent in the British prison, meaning that he would be free to go home. According to the Justice Department, Assange refused to appear before a continental court. The Northern Mariana Islands are much closer to his native Australia, where he is expected to return, according to the court documents.

“The case has dragged on for too long. There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” said Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been defending Assange’s release for months. Albanese’s decision to support this cause helped shore up an international campaign for the release of the WikiLeaks founder and for global press freedom.

Assange was held in the high-security Belmarsh prison outside London for five years, and before that he spent seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London until his asylum was withdrawn and he was forcibly removed and detained in April 2019. During his stay at the embassy he had two children with Stella Assange.

The extradition process was at a standstill for a long time. Judges at the High Court in London considered insufficient Washington’s assurances that the Wikileaks co-founder would receive a fair trial if sent to the United States.

U.S. President Joe Biden, acknowledged last April that the United States was considering accepting a request from Australia to end the legal process against Assange.

WikiLeaks considers that Assange’s release is “the result of a global campaign that spanned grass-roots organisers, press freedom campaigners, legislators and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations. [...] As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”

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