Julian Assange Leaves UK After Striking Deal with US Justice Department

It is anticipated the WikiLeaks founder will plead guilty to violating US espionage law at a hearing in Saipan and will be allowed to return to Australia..

Julian Assange has been released from a British prison and is expected to plead guilty to violating US espionage law, in a deal that would allow him to return home to his native Australia.

Assange, 52, agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defense documents, according to filings in the US district court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

WikiLeaks posted a video of Assange boarding a flight at London’s Stansted airport on Monday evening. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed he had left the UK. The plane, chartered flight VJT199, later landed in Bangkok for refueling.

Assange is reportedly traveling to a hearing on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, where he will be sentenced at 9 am local time on Wednesday (11 pm GMT on Tuesday). According to Albanese, he is being accompanied by Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith.

“Regardless of the views that people have about Julian Assange and his activities, 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,” Albanese said on Tuesday.

Under the deal, which must be approved by a judge, Assange is likely to be credited for the five years he has already served and face no new jail time.

A senior justice department official stated in a letter to the district court that Assange was being sent to Saipan because of its proximity to his country of citizenship. Once the sentencing hearing is completed, Assange is expected to travel on to Australia.

WikiLeaks said on X that Assange had left Belmarsh prison on Monday morning after 1,901 days of captivity. He had spent the time “in a 2×3 meter cell, isolated 23 hours a day.”

Assange was set to be reunited with his wife, Stella, who confirmed on X that he was free. She thanked Assange’s supporters, saying “words cannot express our immense gratitude.”

In the WikiLeaks video, Assange, looking healthy and dressed in a shirt and jeans with his white hair cut short, is seen climbing the stairs into a plane.

Assange’s mother Christine welcomed the developments, saying “I am grateful my son’s ordeal is finally coming to an end.”

The plea agreement comes months after US President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange.

WikiLeaks in 2010 released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history – along with swaths of diplomatic cables.

Assange was indicted during former President Donald Trump’s administration over the release of documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

Many press freedom advocates argue that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.

The US government laid out the details of the charge in a court document filed ahead of Wednesday’s sentencing. It accuses Assange of “knowingly and unlawfully” conspiring with Chelsea Manning to “receive and obtain documents, writings, and notes connected with the national defense … up to the SECRET level.”

As news of the plea deal spread on Monday night, there were widespread expressions of relief that Assange’s years-long captivity appeared to be ending. However, concerns remained that a conviction, even on a single count, could have a devastating and prolonged impact on investigative and national security journalism.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said the plea deal averted the worst-case scenario of a full-on prosecution but warned that the outcome could “cast a long shadow over the most important kinds of journalism, not just in this country but around the world.”

Meanwhile, former US Vice-President Mike Pence criticized the deal, calling it a “miscarriage of justice.”

“There should be no plea deals to avoid prison for anyone that endangers the security of our military or the national security of the United States. Ever,” Pence wrote on X.

Assange was first arrested in Britain in 2010 on a European arrest warrant after Swedish authorities sought to question him over sex-crime allegations that were later dropped. He fled to Ecuador’s embassy, where he remained for seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was dragged out of the embassy in 2019 and jailed for skipping bail. He has been in London’s Belmarsh top security jail ever since, from where he has been fighting extradition to the US.

While in Belmarsh, Assange married his partner Stella, with whom he had two children while in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses for leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017, allowing her release after about seven years behind bar.

(Associated Medias) – Tutti i diritti sono riservati