updated

Julian Assange sentence: United States Pacific Territory judge tells WikiLeaks founder he is a ‘free man’

Max Corstorphan
The Nightly
Julian Assange has arrived at a Saipan court ahead of pleading guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents.

After a 14-year legal saga, a judge in a US District Court has told WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange “he will be able to walk out of this courtroom a free man”.

Assange pleaded guilty to one count: conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified information relating to the national defence of the United States, in violation of 18 USC, section 793(g).

In the courtroom were NMI District Court Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona, US Probation Officer Juanette F. David-Atalig and US Attorney McKenzie.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

When handing down the sentence, Judge Ramona said: “Given the factual basis that accounts for the whole saga of events that constitutes the basis for this very serious espionage charge against you, I am in fact sentencing you to a period of time served,”

“I am not imposing any period of supervised release.”

“You will be able to walk out of this courtroom a free man,” Judge said to Assange.

Sentencing accounts for time already served in a British maximum security prison, meaning Assange can now return to Australia as a free man.

WikiLeaks has posted on X stating Assange is expected to board a flight to Canberra within hours.

US Attorney Mckenzie earlier said the case was brought to the island of Saipan, a territory of the US, due to its proximity to Australia

Assange was reminded during proceedings that he would be under oath after being sworn in to answer personal background questions.

Speaking at the groundbreaking hearing, Assange said he had not faced any threats or made any promises to waive his right to prosecution by indictment.

He consented to prosecution by information before pleading guilty.

Chief Judge Ramona Manglona asked Assange during the hearing what he did to constitute the crime being charged.

“Working as a journalist I encouraged my source to provide information that was said to be classified in order to publish that information,” Assange said.

“I believe that the First Amendment protected that activity.”

“I believe the First Amendment and the Espionage Act are in contradiction with each other but I accept that it would be difficult to win such a case given all these circumstances.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Wednesday morning said: “This is not something that has happened in the last 24 hours, this is something that has been considered, patient, worked through in a calibrated way, which is how Australia conducts ourselves internationally.”

“Given those proceedings are happening literally in real-time it is not appropriate to provide further commentary,” he said.

“We have engaged and advocated Australia’s interest using appropriate channels to support the positive outcome, and you would now be aware of the assistance being provided to Mr Assange – including the presence right now of High Commissioner (Stephen) Smith as well as ambassador (Kevin) Rudd there as part of providing that support.

“I have been very clear as Labor leader and as Prime Minister that regardless of what your views about Mr Assange’s activities, his case has dragged on for too long.

“There is nothing to be gained from his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.

“That is something I’ve said as Labor leader, something I’ve said as prime minister and is something that I will have more to say about once these legal proceedings have concluded, which I hope will be very soon.”

SAIPAN, NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS - JUNE 26: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen through a glass window following his arrival at the United States Courthouse where he is expected to enter a guilty plea to an espionage charge ahead of his expected release on June 26, 2024 in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, was to appear before the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands in Saipan on Wednesday for a change of plea hearing. Following his expected guilty plea to a felony charge under the Espionage Act, Assange is anticipated to be sentenced to time served and subsequently released, paving the way for his return to Australia after years of incarceration. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen through a glass window following his arrival at the United States Courthouse where his guilty plea to one espionage charge has been accepted. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images) Credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Former United States Vice President Mike Pence has called the plea deal a “miscarriage of justice”.

“Julian Assange endangered the lives of our troops in a time of war and should have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he wrote on X.

“The Biden administration’s plea deal with Assange is a miscarriage of justice and dishonours the service and sacrifice of the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families.

“There should be no plea deals to avoid prison for anyone that endangers the security of our military or the national security of the United States.”

Assange arrived at the Saipan court, 14 years after he leaked troves of secret state information.

It comes after he spent years holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy and then solitary confinement in Belmarsh prison.

A private jet carrying Assange, his support team including Australia’s ambassador to the UK Stephen Smith landed in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, at about 6.15am on Wednesday.

Assange, 52, agreed on Tuesday to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents, according to court filings.

By the end of the day he was on a plane to the islands via Thailand.

More to come....

With AAP

Comments

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 23-07-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 23 July 202423 July 2024

Australia’s top cyber cop lashes big tech firms for profiting from alarming scourge amid calls for further action on online image abuse.