Julian Assange leaves UK after striking deal with US justice department

11:35 26.06.2024 •

Photo: AP

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (photo) has been released from prison in the United Kingdom and is flying to Australia, WikiLeaks said, Sputnik informs.

Earlier in the day, court documents revealed that Assange is expected to plead guilty to a US espionage charge as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

"Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of 24 June, after having spent 1901 days there. He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK," WikiLeaks said on X.

The statement confirmed reports that Assange has a deal with the US Department of Justice, which is yet to be formally finalized.

Assange, an Australian citizen, was transferred to London's high-security Belmarsh prison in April 2019 on bail breach charges. In the US, he faced prosecution under the Espionage Act for obtaining and disclosing classified information that shed light on war crimes and human rights violations committed by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange, 52, agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents, according to filings in the US district court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

Assange is reportedly travelling to a hearing on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, where he will be sentenced at 9am local time on Wednesday (11pm GMT on Tuesday). According to Albanese, he is being accompanied by Australia’s high commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith, writes ‘The Guardian’.

“Regardless of the views that people have about Julian Assange and his activities, the case has dragged on for too long, there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” Albanese said on Tuesday.

Under the deal, which must be approved by a judge, Assange is likely to be credited for the five years he has already served and face no new jail time.

In a letter to a federal judge in the district court for the Northern Mariana Islands, a senior justice department official said that he was being sent to Saipan because of its “proximity to the defendant’s country of citizenship”. The official added that once the sentencing hearing was completed, Assange was expected to travel on to Australia.

WikiLeaks said on X that Assange had left Belmarsh prison on Monday morning, after 1,901 days of captivity there. He had spent the time, the organisation said, “in a 2x3 metre cell, isolated 23 hours a day”.

Assange was set to be reunited with his wife, Stella, who confirmed on X that he was free. She thanked Assange’s supporters, saying “words cannot express our immense gratitude”.

Wikileaks posted on social media a video of its founder boarding a flight at London’s Stansted airport on Monday evening and Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese confirmed he had left the UK. The plane – chartered flight VJT199 – later landed in Bangkok for refuelling, officials at the Thai airport said.

In the WikiLeaks video, Assange, looking healthy dressed in a shirt and jeans with his white hair cut short, is seen climbing the stairs into a plane.

Screenshot from the video of Julian Assange boarding a flight at London Stansted airport.
Photo: WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks in 2010 released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history – along with swaths of diplomatic cables.

Assange was indicted during the former president Donald Trump’s administration over the release of documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst who was also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

Many press freedom advocates have argued that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University which defends press freedom, said that the plea deal averted the worst-case scenario of a full-on prosecution. “But this deal contemplates that Assange will have served five years in prison for activities that journalists engage in every day.”

Jaffer warned that the outcome could “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 said they wanted 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 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 been fighting extradition to the US.

Vivek Ramaswamy, who ran in the 2024 Republican presidential USA primary, writes in his X account: “It's great that Julian Assange will finally be released (in what smells like a desperate Biden gambit for libertarian votes), but it's shameful that he rotted in a foreign prison for five years for what all reporters regularly do.”


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