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Julian Assange freed: What’s the deal the WikiLeaks founder struck with US? | Julian Assange News

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Assange will plead guilty to one espionage charge in a US court in Saipan on Wednesday, before returning home to Australia.

After a 14-year-long legal battle, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was released from the United Kingdom’s Belmarsh prison on Monday morning after agreeing to a plea deal with the United States.

Soon after, Assange boarded a flight to Australia, his home country where his family is based.

(Al Jazeera)

Here is all you need to know about the deal and Assange’s legal battle:

What is Julian Assange’s plea deal?

  • A US Department of Justice letter issued on Monday details the plea deal.
  • Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge under the US Espionage Act of “conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified information relating to the national defense of the United States”, the letter details.
  • The charge carries a sentence of 62 months in prison. But under the deal, the time he has already served in prison in the UK — which is more than 62 months — will be counted against the sentence, so Assange will not need to spend any more time behind bars, in the US, the UK, or anywhere else.
  • The formal hearing — in which Assange is expected to plead guilty — and sentencing will take place in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands at 9am on Wednesday (23:00 GMT on Tuesday). The court is based in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • If the guilty plea is approved by the judge, as is expected, the WikiLeaks founder will head back to Australia after the sentencing.
The filing from the North Mariana Islands District Court revealing the plea deal
The Justice Department details the Assange plea deal [US Department of Justice via Reuters]

Where is Saipan?

  • Saipan is the largest island and capital of the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI).
  • The NMI is a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific Ocean, spanning across 14 islands and beginning about 70km (44 miles) north of Guam.
  • The NMI is in effect a US territory but without the status of a state.
  • Prosecutors have said the hearing is taking place in Saipan due to Assange’s reluctance to travel to the continental US and because Saipan is closer to Australia, roughly 3,000km (1,800 miles) north of Assange’s home country.

Who is Julian Assange?

  • Assange, 52, was born in July 1971 in Townsville, Australia.
  • In 2006, he founded WikiLeaks, an online platform allowing people to anonymously submit classified leaks, including videos and documents.
  • In 2010, WikiLeaks gained prominence after it published more than 90,000 classified US military documents on the Afghanistan war and about 400,000 classified US documents on the Iraq war.
  • In 2013, former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking thousands of secret cables to WikiLeaks. She was released after serving seven years in a military prison on then-President Barack Obama’s order.
  • Julian Assange is married to Stella Assange, a lawyer whom he met in 2011 as part of his legal team. She changed her name to Stella from Sara Gonzalez Devant in 2012 to protect herself and her family while working with Assange.
  • The couple have two children and married in March 2022, in Belmarsh prison. The family is based in Australia.
  • Through his work and years of incarceration, Assange became the face of the press freedom movement for many.

What charges did Assange face?

  • In 2010, Assange was indicted by the US government on 18 charges for the publication of classified documents by WikiLeaks. Seventeen of these were for espionage counts, while one was for computer misuse.
  • The prosecution was made under the never-before-used 1917 Espionage Act.
  • In August 2010, an arrest warrant was issued against Assange for two sexual assault allegations in Sweden. The investigation was dropped soon after, with prosecutors citing insufficient evidence as the reason.
  • However, an investigation for one of the rape allegations was reopened in Sweden, and by November 2010, Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant for Assange, after which he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The rape charges were subsequently dropped completely.
  • In 2019, Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum status and London police arrested him. He was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail conditions.

How long was Assange in prison?

  • Assange was in prison for a little more than 62 months.
  • In a post on X, WikiLeaks said Assange is free “after having spent 1,901 days” in prison.
  • During his time in the high-security UK prison, Assange fought to avoid extradition to the US.
  • Before going to prison, Assange spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in central London, outside of which the police were stationed and ready to arrest him.
  • In 2011, a district court in Britain ordered Assange to be extradited to Sweden. After Assange’s attempts to appeal this decision failed, in June 2012, he sought asylum.

What’s next for Assange?

  • Assange gets to return to Australia after a legal battle that spanned over a decade, reuniting with his wife and children.
  • WikiLeaks said in its statement on X: “After more than five years in a 2×3 metre cell, isolated 23 hours a day, he will soon reunite with his wife Stella Assange, and their children, who have only known their father from behind bars.”
  • “Julian is free!!!!”, his wife Stella wrote on X.
  • It is unclear whether Assange’s deal with the US includes any commitments on his part on how WikiLeaks will seek to source whistleblower exposes.

What are the reactions to Assange’s release?

  • Australian Prime Minster Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday that he wanted Assange back in Australia as soon as possible.
  • Australian Labor Party Member of Parliament Julian Hill said: “No one should judge Julian for accepting a deal to get the hell out of there and come home. His health is fragile.”
  • Australian National Party MP Barnaby Joyce said he did not think what Assange did was morally correct. However, the issue was of “extraterritoriality” since Assange was not a US citizen and was not in the US “when this felony, as what they said, was created”. Joyce added, “We’ve just got to be still cautious on how this proceeds because the end has not arrived.”
  • Chief executive of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Jodie Ginsberg, told Al Jazeera she was “delighted” at the news of Assange’s expected release. She said the plea deal was a way for the Biden administration to save face amid the increased pressure to release Assange.
  • The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, also welcomed the news, posting on X, “Assange’s imprisonment and torture was an attack on global press freedom.”
  • Former Bolivian President Evo Morales also posted on X, saying “He was imprisoned for many years for exposing to the world the crimes of the US. He helped reveal and dismantle the lies that justify wars and invasions.”
  • The WikiLeaks X account published a statement on Monday, saying, “This is the result of a global campaign that spanned grass-roots organisers, press freedom campaigners, legislators and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations.”

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