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Stella Assange on Julian’s return to Australia: Freed WikiLeaks founder needs ‘time to recuperate’

Caleb Runciman
The Nightly
He is back on home soil after 14 years.

Julian Assange’s wife has thanked Australia for its support as she choked up speaking about the return of her husband 14 years after the WikiLeaks saga.

Stella Assange, who has two children with Julian, said June 26 is a day for “celebration” after her husband touched down in Canberra just after 7.30pm local time.

“I wish to thank Prime Minister Albanese, the officials who have been working in DFAT on securing Julian’s release,” she said.

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“I’d also like to thank the Australian people who have made this possible, because without their support, there would not be the political space to be able to achieve Julian’s freedom.

“And that support is across the board. I thank the Opposition for also supporting Julian’s release.”

“It took people working behind the scenes, the people protesting on the streets for days and weeks and months and years.”

Stella said she was “overcome by emotion” when she heard the crowd cheering on the tarmac for Assange.

“We embraced, we’ve seen the picture(s) — I don’t want to express in words what is obvious from the pictures,” she said.

Mrs Assange said Wednesday night was a night of celebration.

“Today we celebrate Julian’s freedom, today is the day that the plea deal was approved by the judge, I think it’s also a day where I hope journalists, editors and publishers everywhere realise the danger of this US case against Julian — (a case) that criminalises (and) that secured a conviction for news-gathering and publishing.”

“It is in the interest of all of the press to (investigate) this current state of affairs through reform of the Espionage Act. Through increased press protections, and yes, eventually when the time comes - not today - a pardon.”

She also called for privacy, as Assange rediscovers his “freedom” after his 14-year legal battle.

“He wanted to be here. But you have to understand what he’s been through. He needs time. He needs to recuperate. And this is a process. I ask you – please – to give us space, to give us privacy. To find our place,” she said.

“To let our family be a family before he can speak again at a time of his choosing.”

Earlier on Wednesday— in Saipan, in the US Pacific territory of the Northern Mariana Islands — the WikiLeaks founder pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.

Assange spent the past five years in a high-security prison after nearly seven years holed up at London’s Ecuadorian embassy. He told the court he believed the country’s First Amendment — which protects free speech — had shielded his activities.

Jennifer Robinson, who forms part of Assange’s legal team, said he had told Prime Minister Anthony Albanese he had saved his life after landing in Australia.

“I can say when we landed here in Australia, I became very emotional at the moment that we landed and the prime minister was the first person to get on the phone to speak to Julian.”

“Julian thanked him and the team and told the prime minister that he had saved his life.”

“And I don’t think that that is an exaggeration.”

She thanked Australia’s ambassador to the United States, Kevin Rudd, and Australian High Commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith.

“That Julian came home today is the product of 14 long years of legal battles, political advocacy and ongoing campaigning - not just by us, but by so many people in this community.”

Barry Pollack, another lawyer for Assange, criticised the US Government’s legal case against Julian — which left him wound up and away from his family for 14 years.

“It was definitely in the public’s interest to have this information and Julian provided it to the public,” he said.

“He performed a tremendous public service. There is no First Amendment defence in the Espionage Act.

“It does by its terms, not matter the reason why you publish. For years, the US government has claimed that these publications did great harm.”

“Today in court, the United States government admitted that there is not a single person anywhere that they could produce that was actually harmed by these publications.”

The press conference came after Assange’s

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