WikiLeaks Founder Assange Walks Free After Pleading Guilty, Will Return to Australia

WikiLeaks Founder Assange Walks Free After Pleading Guilty, Will Return to Australia
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) arrives at the United States courthouse where he is expected enter a plea deal in Saipan, Mariana Islands, on June 26, 2024. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walked free after pleading guilty on June 25 to a single felony charge related to the publication of classified U.S. military information, ending a yearslong legal battle with the U.S. government.

The move allows the 52-year-old to return home to his native Australia for the first time since 2012.

Mr. Assange pleaded guilty to a single criminal count of conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information as part of a deal with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ).

The agreement will allow him to avoid extradition to the United States and keep him from spending any time in an American prison in lieu of the 62 months that he’s already served in a UK prison.

He entered the plea at a court in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific north of Guam, at around 9:45 a.m. local time.

That location was chosen due to Mr. Assange’s opposition to traveling to the U.S. mainland to enter a guilty plea and because of its proximity to his home country of Australia, according to a letter sent to U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona by prosecutors on June 25.

Speaking outside the court, Mr. Assange’s lawyer, Barry J. Pollack, called the prosecution “unprecedented” and said the WikiLeaks founder should never have been charged with an espionage offense for publishing the classified materials.

“He has suffered tremendously in his fight for free speech, for freedom of the press, and to ensure that the American public and the world community gets truthful and important newsworthy information,” his attorney said.

“It is appropriate, though … for the judge, as she did today, to determine that no additional incarceration of Mr Assange would be fair,” he added.

The Justice Department said it expected Mr. Assange to return to Australia after the court hearing was complete.

“Julian walks out of Saipan federal court a free man,” Stella Assange, Mr. Assange’s wife, wrote on the social media platform X alongside a photo of him leaving the court.

“I can’t stop crying,” she added.

Charges Against WikiLeaks Founder

Mr. Assange’s guilty plea resolves a longstanding legal battle with the U.S. government stemming from one of the largest leaks of classified information in U.S. history.

Mr. Assange had faced 18 criminal charges in the United States of breaking an espionage law and conspiring to hack government computers after WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of classified documents on the U.S. military and the Middle East in 2010.

The sensitive documents had been supplied by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst turned whistleblower Bradley Manning, who now goes by the name Chelsea Manning.

They included a 2007 video showing an attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed multiple civilians, including two Reuters news staff, along with thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables, which included critical appraisals of world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prosecutors in Washington said the publishing of the classified and sensitive documents included the identities of human sources and placed lives in danger.

Mr. Assange was first arrested in the UK in 2010 on a European arrest warrant as part of a rape investigation in Sweden. Those charges were later dropped.

In order to avoid extradition to the Scandinavian country, he sought refuge inside Ecuador’s London Embassy from 2012 until he was arrested in April 2019 for skipping bail during a separate legal battle.

He was later moved to London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, where he remained for five years. During his time in prison, the WikiLeaks founder and his lawyers repeatedly argued that he would not get a fair trial if he was extradited to the United States.

While in Belmarsh, Mr. Assange married his partner Stella, with whom he shares two children.

Mr. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of numerous charges, including intentionally communicating national defense information that was acquired by accessing a U.S. government computer. However, President Barack Obama commuted that sentence in 2017.

‘Result of a Global Campaign’

According to an X post by WikiLeaks, Mr. Assange left Belmarsh prison in the UK on the morning of June 24  before being granted bail by the UK High Court and boarding a flight to depart the UK that same afternoon.

“This is the result of a global campaign that spanned grass-roots organizers, press freedom campaigners, legislators, and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations,” WikiLeaks said.

“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” the post continued.

“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know. 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.”

Tom Ozimek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times