Julian Assange ends standoff with US by trading guilty plea for his freedom

Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has returned home to Australia, a free man for the first time in 12 years, after a US judge signed off on his surprise plea deal on Wednesday morning.

Assange left the courtroom earlier Wednesday in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands, a remote U.S. territory in the Pacific, raising one hand to a group of the world’s press before driving to the airport where he took a flight to the Australian capital Canberra.

Speaking outside court, Assange’s US lawyer Barry Pollack said he had “suffered enormously in his fight for freedom of expression and freedom of the press”.

“The prosecution of Julian Assange is unprecedented in the 100 years of the Espionage Act,” Pollack told reporters. “Mr. Assange has revealed truthful and newsworthy information… We firmly believe that Mr. Assange should never have been charged under the Espionage Act and engaged in (an) exercise that journalists engage in deliver daily.

In a stunning turn of events, the 52-year-old Australian was released from a high security prison in London on Monday afternoon and had already boarded a private jet to leave the UK even before the world knows about its agreement with the United States. government.

Julian Assange ends standoff with US by trading guilty plea for his freedom

He appeared in a U.S. court in the Northern Mariana Islands to formalize the deal, formally pleading guilty to illegal conspiracy to obtain and disseminate classified information regarding his alleged role in one of the largest violations of classified documents of American military history.

“I am in fact guilty of this charge,” Assange told the Saipan court.

Assange – who has long had a deep distrust of the United States, even going so far as to accuse it of allegedly planning his assassination – was reluctant to set foot on the continental United States, and prosecutors therefore requested that all procedures take place on the same day. a U.S. federal court based on Saipan, the largest island and capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, located about 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) west of Hawaii.

Justice Department prosecutors also said having the court in the islands makes logistical sense because it is closer to Australia, where Assange will ultimately travel after the conclusion of his legal battle.

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s ambassador to Washington and a former prime minister who helped facilitate negotiations with the United States, watched the proceedings in the courtroom.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves the United States District Court after a hearing, in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, June 26, 2024.

At the start of the plea hearing, the judge reminded Assange that he was back in the United States and that this court was “the smallest, the youngest and the furthest from the nation’s capital.” Assange looked relaxed in the courtroom, dressed in a black jacket and brown tie, next to his lawyers.

Asked by the judge, the Honorable Ramona Manglona, ​​to describe what he had done to be charged, Assange said: “Working as a journalist, I encouraged my source to provide information that was considered classified in order to to publish them. I believe the First Amendment protects this activity…I believe the First Amendment and the Espionage Act are at odds with each other, but I accept that it would be difficult to win such a case given all these circumstances.

In his sentencing, the judge said Assange was entitled to credit for time served for his incarceration in a British prison.

“It appears that your 62-month prison sentence is fair and reasonable,” Manglona said. “You will be able to walk out of this courtroom a free man. I hope some peace will be restored.

The judge told Assange that “timing matters” and that she would have been less inclined to accept a plea 10 years ago. She also said there were no personal victims in this case – Assange’s action did not result in any known physical injuries.

For years, the United States has argued that the self-proclaimed champion of free speech put lives at risk and posed a threat to national security.

After his release, the US Department of Justice said in a statement that Assange was not allowed to return to the United States without authorization, “in accordance with the plea agreement.”

Assange and his whistleblowing website gained global notoriety in 2010 after a series of leaks from former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Members of the media surround WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's vehicle as he leaves the U.S. federal courthouse in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, June 26, 2024.

The website published a video showing a U.S. military helicopter shooting and killing two journalists and several Iraqi civilians in 2007. Months later, it disclosed more than 90,000 classified Afghan war documents dating back to 2004.

Later in 2010, he was wanted in Sweden to answer questions about sexual assault allegations that had emerged.

Two years later, Assange sought political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in west London. He remained there for nearly seven years until the Metropolitan Police entered his safe house in 2019, acting on an extradition warrant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The deal negotiated with the United States is the latest act in a 14-year-old legal drama that spans every continent, although it is not immediately clear why it reached to a resolution now.

Australian officials have been pushing diplomatic angles for some time. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was widely believed to have raised Assange’s case during his visit to the White House last October.

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, the Australian leader said he was “pleased that (Assange) is returning home to Australia to be reunited with his family”.

“This result is the result of hard, patient and determined work,” Albanese said, adding “this is what defending Australians around the world looks like.”


  • 2006: Julian Assange founded the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks.
  • April 2010: WikiLeaks releases video showing US helicopter killing civilians in Iraq in 2007.
  • July 2010: WikiLeaks releases classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan.
  • August 2010: Sweden launches investigation into Assange after sexual assault allegations surface, which he denies.
  • June 2012 : Assange enters the Ecuadorian embassy in London to request political asylum.
  • April 2019: British police arrest Assange on behalf of the United States and request his extradition after Ecuador withdraws his asylum.
  • June 2022: The British Home Secretary signs his extradition order, which he then appeals.
  • May 2024: Assange obtains authorization to launch a new extradition appeal.
  • June 2024: Assange reaches a plea deal in the United States allowing him to leave British prison and return to Australia.

US President Joe Biden had hinted in recent months at a possible deal proposed by Australian government officials to return Assange to Australia. However, the administration distanced itself from the developments on Tuesday. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told CNN that this was “an independent decision made by the Department of Justice and there was no involvement from the White House “.

Regardless, Assange’s wife Stella said on Tuesday she was “delighted” to learn her husband was not in Belmarsh.

“Honestly, it’s just incredible. I don’t know. It feels like it’s not real,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today program from Australia, where she flew with their two children on Sunday morning ahead of the release of Assange.

Assange’s half-brother, Gabriel Shipton, told CNN that “this is a momentous day.” He said his brother’s work changed the world.

He said Assange was “excited to be a free man again” and eager to do normal things he was unable to do after being held in a maximum security prison for the past five years . He said his brother enjoyed watching Australian birds, swimming in the ocean and sharing a meal with his wife and children.

Once the WikiLeaks founder lands in Australia, one thing on his to-do list will be paying his government for the return home. Assange will owe $520,000 for the charter flight, according to the international campaign that called for his release.

To cover the alleged expenses as well as other funds for his recovery, the campaign launched an appeal, asking for donations from his supporters.

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