WikiLeaks Co-founder Julian Assange to Plead Guilty and Return to Australia Under Justice Department Deal

WikiLeaks Co-founder’s Plea Agreement Ends Nearly 15-Year Battle Over Prosecution and Secures His Return Home.

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange to Serve Time Already Served in UK Prison, Avoiding Lengthy US Sentence

Saipan, US Northern Mariana Islands – In a groundbreaking development, WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has agreed to plead guilty to leaking US national security secrets and will return to his home country of Australia under a deal with the Justice Department. This agreement concludes an almost 15-year battle over his prosecution.

Assange, 52, is set to appear in court on Wednesday in Saipan, where he is expected to be sentenced to the more than five years he has already served in a UK prison. This arrangement allows him to avoid a potentially lengthy sentence in the US.

The plea deal marks the end of an international effort to prosecute Assange, which began when WikiLeaks released sensitive US military documents, war logs, and diplomatic cables in 2010 and 2011. Among the leaked material was footage of a US airstrike in Baghdad from a few years earlier.

“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 stated.

Assange’s journey back to Australia began on Monday afternoon when he departed the UK, boarding a flight at London’s Stansted Airport.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Assange will appear in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, where he will be sentenced immediately to time served for his 62 months in a UK prison. He will then head to Australia.

Assange was accused of assisting Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in obtaining around 750,000 classified or sensitive documents, making it one of the largest breaches of state secrets in US history. Manning was convicted of leaking classified material in 2013, but her 35-year sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama in 2017.

The Justice Department’s four-page filing stated that Assange and Manning conspired “to receive and obtain documents, writings, and notes connected with the national defense, including such materials classified up to the SECRET level.” They acted to “willfully communicate documents relating to the national defense from persons in unauthorized possession of such documents to persons not entitled to receive,” the filing added.

Assange was criminally charged in 2019 under the Trump administration with violating the Espionage Act. His arrest followed his stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, where he sought to avoid questioning in a Swedish sexual-assault case. Although those charges were dropped in 2017, Assange remained in the embassy to dodge UK police and American prosecutors.

Former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce praised the plea deal, highlighting the international lobbying effort from across the political spectrum in Washington. “There are a lot of people who arrived at this position saying ‘Enough is enough’,” Joyce told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Assange’s supporters argued that the US case infringed on free speech and independent media, while national security officials viewed the leaks as grave threats. His defense team contended that he could not receive a fair trial in the US and might face the death penalty.

“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” WikiLeaks emphasized. “As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know.”

Negotiations for the plea deal intensified recently after President Joe Biden considered a request from the Australian government to allow Assange’s return. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has advocated for a resolution since his election in May 2022, repeatedly stated that the case had “dragged on for too long.”

A White House National Security Council spokesman clarified that the decision was made independently by the Justice Department, with no White House involvement. The Australian government declined to comment, citing ongoing legal proceedings.

WikiLeaks announced on Twitter, “Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of 24 June, after having spent 1901 days there. This is the result of a global campaign… leading to a deal that has not yet been formally finalized. We will provide more information as soon as possible.”

Assange is expected to reunite with his wife, Stella Assange, and their children, who have only known their father from behind bars. WikiLeaks concluded, “Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”

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