Julian Assange finally heads home, to walk free after plea deal with US

The WikiLeaks founder is set to be sentenced to 62 months of prison already served in the UK, and then return to Australia.

Published : Jun 25, 2024 18:13 IST - 3 MINS READ

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looks out a plane window, in this picture released by Wikileaks on June 25.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looks out a plane window, in this picture released by Wikileaks on June 25. | Photo Credit: Wikileaks via X/Reuters

Julian Assange will plead guilty to violating US espionage laws in a deal with the Justice Department that will see him return to his home country of Australia. WikiLeaks said on June 25 that Assange has left Belmarsh Prison, where he had been detained for five years, and has flown out of the UK.

“This is the result of a global campaign that spanned grassroots organizers, press freedom campaigners, legislators and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations,” WikiLeaks said on social media. “This created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice, leading to a deal that has not yet been formally finalized.”

Also Read | The fight to free Julian Assange is a fight for press freedom and the right to know

Later on the morning of June 25, the plane carrying Assange landed in Bangkok to refuel, before it was due to fly the WikiLeaks founder to his court hearing in the North Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific.

Australian Prime Minister wants Assange to come home

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed the news in an address to the parliament on June 25, saying he wanted Assange brought back home as soon as possible.

Albanese said that, regardless of people’s views on Assange’s 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 added that the government has continued to provide consular assistance to Assange. He described the proceedings of the deal as “crucial” and “delicate”.

What do we know about the deal?

Assange is due to appear before court in the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands on June 26.

In documents filed late on June 24, prosecutors said Assange will plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate national defense information. He is due to be sentenced to 62 months of time that he has already served in the United Kingdom.

A marathon legal battle

Assange founded Wikileaks in 2006. Four years later, the website released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a trove of diplomatic cables, provided by Chelsea Manning.

In 2010, Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Assange over rape allegations, which he denied. Assange was arrested in the UK after presenting to police, and granted bail. Starting in 2012, the Australian whistleblower spent seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in order to avoid arrest over the rape investigation, which he feared could lead to him being extradited to the US on espionage charges. The Swedish investigation was later dropped.

Also Read | ‘Journalists can serve democracy but they can’t save it’: Joel Simon

In 2019, Assange was expelled from the Ecuadorian Embassy and was sent to the UK’s Belmarsh Prison. Later that year, the US Justice Department unsealed indictments against Assange, charging him with violating the Espionage Act. A spokesperson for the Australian government said on June 25 that the Assange case “has dragged on for too long and there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration”.

Assange family welcomes release

Assange’s loved ones thanked those who were involved in the plea deal. “I am grateful that my son’s ordeal is finally coming to an end. This shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy,” his mother Christine said in a statement carried by Australian media.

His wife, Stella, also welcomed the news that he had been released from custody in the UK. “Words cannot express our immense gratitude” to everyone who called for Assange’s release, she said on social media.

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