WikiLeaks' Julian Assange walks out of prison after striking plea deal with US

He won't serve a jail term as he will be credited for the 5 years he did in UK prison

TOPSHOT-FILES-BRITAIN-US-COURT-MEDIA-ASSANGE Wikileaks founder Julian Assange walking to board a plane from London Stansted Airport on June 24, 2024. Julian Assange "is free" and has been released from a high-security London prison where he was held for five years | AFP

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been freed from the UK prison after he agreed to plead guilty with the US to violating espionage law. The deal would allow him to return home to his native Australia.

Assange, 52, has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. national defence documents, according to filings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands. He will be sentenced to 62 months at a hearing on the island of Saipan on Wednesday morning. But, Assange wouldn't be serving a jail term as he will be credited for the five years he has already served.  

A US Justice Department official, in a letter to a federal judge in the district court for the Northern Mariana Islands, said Assange was being sent to Saipan because of its "proximity to the defendant’s country of citizenship". He will leave for Australia after the sentencing hearing is done.

WikiLeaks, which announced the news, also posted a video that showed Assange boarding a plane on Monday afternoon at Stanstead Airport to depart the UK. He has been held in the high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019. "This 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," the statement said.

WikiLeaks also shared a video showing Assange dressed in a blue shirt and jeans signing a document before boarding a private jet.  

Assange's wife Stella took to X to confirm his release: "Julian is free!. Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU- yes YOU, who have all mobilised for years and years to make this come true", she said while thanking Assange’s supporters.

Australia's government, which has been pressing for Assange's release, has not yet commented. A lawyer for Assange has not yet commented.

The leak

In the largest security breaches of their kind in the US military history, WikiLeaks, in 2010, released hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military documents on Washington's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is besides a huge amount of diplomatic cables that were released along with it.

The over 700,000 documents included battlefield accounts such as a 2007 video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff.

Following the leak, Assange was indicted by President Donald Trump's administration along with Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. military intelligence analyst who was also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

According to prosecutors, Assange goaded Manning into obtaining thousands of pages of unfiltered US diplomatic cables that potentially endangered confidential sources, Iraq war-related significant activity reports and information related to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

However, Assange's supporters argued that he should not be facing the charges typically used against federal government employees who steal or leak information.

The WikiLeaks founder was arrested in Britain in 2010 on a European arrest warrant after Swedish authorities said they wanted to question him over sex crime allegations. However, the charges were later dropped. He fled to Ecuador's embassy, where he remained for seven years, to avoid extradition to Sweden. However, Assange 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 for almost five years been fighting extradition to the United States.

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