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‘Julian Assange is free’: Wikileaks founder is freed in an agreement with the United States | Julian Assange News

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been released from prison in the United Kingdom and is on his way home to Australia after agreeing to plead guilty to a single charge of violating the espionage law in the United States.

Assange, 52, will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to obtain and disclose classified U.S. national defense documents, according to a filing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

He was released from the high-security Belmarsh prison in the United Kingdom on Monday and transferred to the airport from where he left the country. Assange will appear in a court in Saipan, a US territory in the Pacific, at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday (23:00 GMT on Tuesday), where he will be sentenced to 62 months in prison already served.

“Julian Assange is free,” Wikileaks said in a statement posted on X.

“He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of June 24, after having spent 1,901 days there. He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stanstead Airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and left the UK.

“Julian is free!!!!” his wife Stella wrote in X. “Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU ​​– yes, YOU, who have mobilized for years and years to make this happen. THANK YOU. thanks thanks.”

Assange rose to prominence with the launch of Wikileaks in 2006, creating an online whistleblowing platform for people to submit classified material, such as documents and videos, anonymously.

Footage of a US Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, which killed a dozen people, including two journalists, raised the platform’s profile, while the 2010 release of hundreds of thousands of classified US documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a trove of diplomatic cables, cemented his reputation.

‘Hold the powerful accountable’

Wikileaks published material about many countries, but it was the United States, during the administration of former US President Donald Trump, that decided to charge him in 2019 with 17 counts of non-compliance with the Espionage Act.

US lawyers had argued that he conspired with Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst who spent seven years in prison for leaking material to WikiLeaks. She was freed when US President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017.

The charges sparked outrage, with Assange’s supporters arguing that as publisher and editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, he should not have faced charges typically used against government employees who steal or leak information.

Meanwhile, press freedom advocates argued that criminally charging Assange was a threat to freedom of expression.

“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories about government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” Wikileaks said in its statement announcing the plea deal.

“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles and for the people’s right to know. Upon his return to Australia, we thank everyone who supported us, fought for us and remained fully committed to the fight for his freedom.”

Northern Mariana Islands District Court Filing Revealing Plea Agreement
The US Department of Justice filing outlining the plea agreement (US Department of Justice via Reuters)

Assange was first arrested in London in 2010 on a Swedish warrant accusing him of sexual assault. Granted bail pending the extradition case, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 after a court ruled he could be sent to Sweden to stand trial.

He spent the next seven years in the small embassy (during which time the Swedish police dropped the rape charges) before UK police arrested him on charges of violating his bail conditions. Assange was imprisoned in the United Kingdom while the extradition case to the United States went through the courts.

The plea deal, announced Tuesday, was not entirely unexpected. US President Joe Biden had been under increasing pressure to drop the long-running case against Assange.

In February, the Australian government made an official request along these lines and Biden said he would consider it, raising hopes among Assange’s supporters that his ordeal could end. At the time, the Australian government said Assange’s case had “prolonged too long and nothing is gained by his continued imprisonment.”

Assange’s mother, Christine, in a statement to Australian media, said on Tuesday that she was grateful that “her son’s ordeal is finally coming to an end.”

“This shows the importance and power of silent diplomacy,” he said in a statement carried by public broadcaster ABC and other media.

Jodie Ginsberg, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Al Jazeera she was delighted by the news of Assange’s long-awaited release.

“If Julian had been extradited to the United States and prosecuted under the Espionage Act (…) it would have had serious implications for journalists around the world who seek information of public interest, classified documents and then publish them in the public interest,” he stated. he said from New York. “Remember, of course, that Julian is not a US citizen. He is an Australian citizen and if he had been brought to the United States and prosecuted, that could have meant that any journalist who tried to publish information about human rights abuses, as Wikileaks did, could have been pursued and prosecuted like the United States. . He was done with Julián.

He added that the plea deal was a way for the Biden administration to save face, amid growing pressure to free Assange, especially from Australia.

“They (the Biden administration) have pleaded guilty to a criminal charge, but only to one criminal charge, of course, and not the 18 for which he was being prosecuted and which could have meant 175 years in prison in total. And Julián has been released in his country of origin and will now be able to spend time with his family and his loved ones.”

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