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WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange to Plead Guilty, Secures Release from UK Imprisonment 

WikiLeaks’s Assange left Belmarsh prison in the UK, bailed by the UK High Court, and boarded a flight on Monday afternoon.

Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to plead guilty on Wednesday to violating U.S. espionage law, in a deal that will end his imprisonment in Britain and allow him to return home to Australia. 

This marks the conclusion of a 14-year legal odyssey for the 52-year-old.

Assange has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. national defense documents, as per filings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands. 

He is scheduled to be sentenced to 62 months of time already served at a hearing in Saipan at 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday (2300 GMT Tuesday). The Pacific island was chosen due to Assange’s opposition to traveling to the mainland U.S. and its proximity to Australia, prosecutors stated.

Assange left Belmarsh prison in the UK on Monday after being bailed by the UK High Court. He boarded a flight that afternoon, WikiLeaks confirmed in a statement posted on social media platform X. 

“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,” the statement read. 

A video posted by WikiLeaks showed Assange in a blue shirt and jeans signing a document before boarding a private jet operated by charter firm VistaJet.

“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.” his wife, Stella Assange, exclaimed in a post on X. 

FlightRadar24 data shows that the only VistaJet plane departing Stansted on Monday afternoon was headed to Bangkok. A spokesperson for Assange in Australia declined to comment on his flight plans, and VistaJet did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Australian government, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has been advocating for Assange’s release but declined to comment on the ongoing legal proceedings. 

“Prime Minister Albanese has been clear, Mr. Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration,” a government spokesperson said.

WikiLeaks gained global attention in 2010 when it released hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, alongside swaths of diplomatic cables. 

Assange was indicted during former President Donald Trump’s administration over WikiLeaks’ mass release of these secret U.S. documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. military intelligence analyst. The trove included more than 700,000 documents, featuring a 2007 video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters journalists. The video was released in 2010.

The charges against Assange have sparked outrage among his global supporters, who argue that as a publisher, he should not face charges typically used against federal employees who leak information. Many press freedom advocates assert that criminally charging Assange poses a threat to free speech. 

“A plea deal would avert the worst-case scenario for press freedom, but this deal contemplates that Assange will have served five years in prison for activities that journalists engage in every day,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. 

“It will cast a long shadow over the most important kinds of journalism, not just in this country but around the world.”

Assange was first arrested in Britain in 2010 on a European arrest warrant after Swedish authorities sought to question him over sex-crime allegations that were later dropped. He fled to Ecuador’s embassy, where he remained for seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden. He was forcibly removed from the embassy in 2019 and jailed for skipping bail. 

He has been in London’s Belmarsh top security jail ever since, fighting extradition to the United States.

While in Belmarsh, Assange married his partner Stella, with whom he had two children during his time in the Ecuadorian embassy. 

The five years he has spent in confinement are similar to the sentence imposed on Reality Winner, an Air Force veteran and former intelligence contractor, who received 63 months for removing classified materials and mailing them to a news outlet.

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