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Julian Assange: Wikileaks founder walks from US District Court as a ‘free man’

Max Corstorphan
The Nightly
Julian Assange has walked out of a US District Court as a ‘free man’ after pleading guilty to espionage and is now on his way to Australia.

Julian Assange has walked out of a US District Court, officially as 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).

When handing down the sentence, NMI District Court Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona 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,”

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“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.

Assange walked free from the Saipan Court to applause from the waiting media, smiling and waving as he entered a vehicle that would take him to the airport.

SAIPAN, NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS - JUNE 26: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange waves as he leavesthe United States Courthouse on June 26, 2024 in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, appeared before the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands in Saipan on Wednesday for a change of plea hearing. Following his guilty plea to a felony charge under the Espionage Act, Assange was sentenced to time served and subsequently released, paving the way for his return to Australia as a free man, after years of incarceration and intense lobbying for his release from across the political spectrum. Assange's lawyer said that the work of WikiLeaks will continue "and Mr Assange, I have no doubt, will be a continuing force for freedom of speech and transparency in government," media reports said. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange waves as he leaves the United States Courthouse on June 26, 2024 in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images) Credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The WikiLeaks founder’s legal team made a statement outside a United States Pacific territory court in Saipan after a judge accepted his guilty plea to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents

Assange’s legal team spoke outside the court in Saipan.

“The prosecution of Julian Assange is unprecedented,” Lawyer Barry Pollack said.

“In the 100 years of the Espionage Act, it has never been used by the United States to pursue a publisher, a journalist, like Mr Assange.

“Mr Assange revealed truthful, newsworthy information, including revealing that the United States had committed war crimes.

“He has suffered tremendously in his fight for free speech, for freedom of the press, and to ensure that the American public and the world community gets truthful and important newsworthy information.

“We firmly believe that Mr Assange never should have been charged under the Espionage Act and engaged in an exercise that journalists engage in every day and we are thankful that they do.

“It is appropriate though, for this fight and it is appropriate for the judge as she did today to determine that no additional incarceration of Mr Assange would be fair, appropriate, and it is time for him to be reunited with his family.

“Mr Assange is grateful for all of the support that he has received and looks forward to reuniting with his wife and his children and getting back home to Australia.”

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s longest-serving counsel, said: “Today is a historic day.”

“It brings forward 14 years of legal battles and finally after 14 years of legal battles, Julian Assange can go home a free man,” she said outside the US District Court.

“This also brings to an end a case which has been recognised as the greatest threat to the first Amendment in the 21st century.

“It is a huge relief to Julian Assange, to his friends, family, supporters, to us, and everyone who believes in free speech around the world, that he can now return home to Australia and be reunited with his family.

Ms Robinson thanked supporters from around the world.

“There has been a global movement behind Julian to protect free speech and it is because of the global movement of support that today’s outcome is possible, “ she said.

“I also want to take time to thank the Australian people and the Australian government. In particular, I want to thank our prime Mr Anthony Albanese for his statesmanship, his principled leadership and his diplomacy, which made this outcome possible.

“He stood for justice and is that enough is enough, there is nothing to be served by Julian’s continue incarceration.

“As prime minister, he was true to his word and did what he needed to do to ensure Julian’s freedom.

“He raised at the highest level, at every opportunity, and when Australian officials were making outreach to the US, they knew that they were acting with the full authority of the Prime Minister of Australia.

Ms Robinson also thanked Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and US Ambassador, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and High Commissioner in London, Stephen Smith

“I think it is also important that we recognise the free speech and measures of this case. Julian has suffered for more than 14 years because of the risk of extradition to the United States.

“He faced 175 years in prison for publishing evidence of war crimes, human rights abuse and US wrongdoing around the world.

“Today, he pleaded guilty to an offence for having published information in the public interest.

“This is a very dangerous precedent, this prosecution sets a dangerous precedent that should be considered by journalists everywhere.

“The US is seeking to extradite resection over all of you without giving you constitutional free speech protections.

“Anyone who cares about free speech and democratic accountability should stand against it.

“I hope that the fact that we have been able to free Julian Assange today against all of the odds and against one of the most powerful governments in the world will give hope to all journalists and publishers who are in prison around the world.

“We encourage everyone who stood to fight for Julian to continue the fight for him and for all of those others in the hope that we can secure their future freedom too.”

WikiLeaks has posted on X stating Assange will now board a flight to Canberra where he is expected to land on Wednesday evening.

It is understood that Assange’s family will be waiting to reunite with the freed felon in in Canberra.

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.

The bill for the private jet carrying Assange from London to Thailand, Thailand to Saipan, Saipan to Canberra is set to cost the WikiLeaks founder over $750,000.

Wife Sella Assange, late on Tuesday night, made a public call for donations to pay the fee for the jet bringing her husband home.

Assange was “obligated” to pay the money to the Australian government, she said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

With AAP

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