Julian Assange freed after deal with U.S., returns to Australia

Julian Assange freed

After a prolonged legal battle, Wikileaks announced that founder Julian Assange has left the UK following an agreement with US authorities. This deal allows him to plead guilty to criminal charges and gain his freedom.

Assange, 52, faced charges for conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information. The US argued that Wikileaks’ releases, detailing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, endangered lives.

He spent the last five years in a UK prison, fighting extradition to the US. CBS, the BBC’s US partner, reports Assange will serve no time in US custody, getting credit for his UK incarceration. Assange will return to Australia, per a justice department letter.

On X (formerly Twitter), Wikileaks stated that Assange left Belmarsh prison on Monday after 1,901 days. He was “released at Stansted airport… and departed the UK” for Australia. A video shared online by Wikileaks shows Assange, in jeans and a blue shirt, being driven to Stansted before boarding a plane. The BBC couldn’t verify the video independently.

His wife, Stella Assange, thanked supporters on Twitter, saying they had “mobilised for years” to achieve this outcome.

The deal involves Assange pleading guilty to one charge, to be finalized in a court in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday, 26 June. This US commonwealth is closer to Australia than other US courts.

A spokesperson for Australia’s government, quoted by Agence France Presse, said the case had “dragged on for too long.” Assange’s lawyer, Richard Miller, declined to comment when contacted by CBS. The BBC also reached out to his US-based attorney.

Assange and his lawyers have long claimed the case was politically motivated. In April, President Joe Biden considered a request from Australia to drop the prosecution. In May, the UK High Court ruled Assange could appeal against US extradition, allowing him to challenge US trial assurances and free speech rights.

Following the ruling, Stella Assange urged the Biden administration to “distance itself from this shameful prosecution.”

Initially, US prosecutors sought to try Assange on 18 counts, mainly under the Espionage Act, for releasing confidential US military and diplomatic records related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Wikileaks, founded by Assange in 2006, claims to have published over 10 million documents. The US government called it “one of the largest compromises of classified information in US history.”

In 2010, Wikileaks published a video from a US military helicopter showing the killing of over a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in Baghdad. Assange’s collaborator, Chelsea Manning, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, later commuted by President Obama in 2017.

Assange also faced rape and sexual assault charges in Sweden, which he denied. He spent seven years in Ecuador’s London embassy, fearing extradition to the US. Sweden dropped the case in 2019 due to time elapsed, but UK authorities later arrested him for failing to surrender to the courts.

Throughout his legal battles, Assange has rarely appeared in public and reportedly suffered from poor health, including a minor stroke in prison in 2021.

(Courtesy: BBC)