Julian Assange Leaves UK After Plea Deal with US Authorities
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Julian Assange Leaves UK After Plea Deal with US Authorities

Wikileaks has posted this picture of Julian Assange on X, which - it says - was taken on the approach to Bangkok airport

After years of legal battles, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has left the UK following a plea deal with US authorities that will see him plead guilty to criminal charges and be freed.

Assange, 52, faced charges of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information. The US has long argued that the Wikileaks files, which revealed details about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, endangered lives.

For the past five years, Assange fought extradition to the US from a British prison. He also faced separate charges of rape and sexual assault in Sweden, which he denied. Assange spent seven years in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition, claiming it would lead to him being sent to the US. Swedish authorities dropped the case in 2019 due to the elapsed time since the original complaint, but UK authorities later took him into custody for failing to surrender to the courts.

According to CBS, the BBC’s US partner, Assange will spend no time in US custody and will receive credit for his time incarcerated in the UK. He is set to return to Australia, as confirmed in a letter from the US Justice Department.

Wikileaks announced on X (formerly Twitter) that Assange left Belmarsh prison on Monday after 1,901 days in a small cell. He was released at Stansted airport in the afternoon, where he boarded a plane to return to Australia. Video shared by Wikileaks shows Assange, dressed in jeans and a blue shirt, being driven to Stansted before boarding an aircraft.

His wife, Stella Assange, thanked supporters on X, expressing gratitude for their years of mobilization to secure his release. She later told the BBC’s Today program that the days leading up to the US deal were “touch-and-go” and filled with “a whirlwind of emotions.”

The deal, which requires Assange to plead guilty to one charge under the Espionage Act, is expected to be finalized in a court in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday, 26 June. This US commonwealth in the Pacific is closer to Australia than US federal courts in Hawaii or the continental US.

Stella Assange said she was limited in what she could disclose about the deal ahead of her husband’s court appearance, emphasizing that the priority is for him to get healthy and for the family to have time and privacy.

The couple’s two children, currently in Australia, are unaware of their father’s impending freedom, only being told that there was a “big surprise” waiting for them.

Stella mentioned that upon release, Julian will have to repay the Australian government $500,000 (£393,715) for chartered flights. She described the need for her husband to recover his health and for the family to regain normalcy.

The case against Assange, which has dragged on for years, has seen numerous legal twists. In a recent victory, the UK High Court allowed him to appeal against his extradition to the US, challenging assurances over his trial and free speech rights. This development followed US President Joe Biden’s consideration of an Australian request to drop the prosecution against Assange.

US prosecutors initially charged Assange with 18 counts, mostly under the Espionage Act, for releasing confidential US military records and diplomatic messages related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Wikileaks, founded by Assange in 2006, has published over 10 million documents, which the US government described as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

In 2010, Wikileaks released a video from a US military helicopter showing the killing of more than a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in Baghdad. US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, a key collaborator, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, though her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017.

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

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