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Julian Assange: Wikileaks founder walks free ahead of guilty espionage plea deal before returning to Australia

Max Corstorphan
The Nightly
Julian Assange has walked free after he was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has walked free and boarded a plane after reportedly reaching a deal with the US Government that will see him plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act.

The guilty plea relates to the Australian obtaining and publishing classified documents in 2010, according to court findings.

A letter filed by the US Justice Department says after the guilty plea, Assange will return home to Australia, suggesting his sentence will not exceed the 62 months he has already spent in a UK prison.

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The anticipated agreement could bring to a close a protracted legal battle and a cross-continental dispute that balanced national security concerns against the principles of press freedom.

The plea and sentencing are expected on Wednesday in the Northern Mariana Islands at 9am local time.

Wikileaks said in a statement that Assange “was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport”.

A video of Assange walking free and boarding a flight at Stansted airport has been posted by WikiLeaks on social media platform X.

The post confirmed Assange left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of 24 June, after having spent 1901 days there.

WikiLeaks said in the post: “After more than five years in a 2x3 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.”

“As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”

Australian Government officials are continuing to work with Assange on a case that has “dragged on for too long”.

On Tuesday, an Australian Government spokesperson said: “We are aware Australian citizen Mr Julian Assange has legal proceedings scheduled in the United States.

“Given those proceedings are ongoing, it is not appropriate to provide further comment.

“The Australian Government continues to provide consular assistance to Mr Assange.

“Prime Minister Albanese has been clear - Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration.”

Barnaby Joyce, who went on a cross-parliamentary trip to the US in 2023 to plead for the WikiLeaks founder’s release said: “It’s an issue that goes beyond Mr Assange, it’s about extraterritoriality.

“It’s an issue about an Australian citizen who did not commit a crime in Australia, was not a US citizen, but had the prospect of going to the United States for a long period of jail,” he told Sky News.

WikiLeaks in 2010 released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history - along with swaths of diplomatic cables.

Assange was indicted during former President Donald Trump’s administration over WikiLeaks’ mass release of secret US documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst who was also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

The US Department of Justice letter.
The US Department of Justice letter. Credit: Supplied

The trove of more than 700,000 documents included diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts such as a 2007 video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff. That video was released in 2010.

The charges against Assange sparked outrage among his many global supporters who have long argued that Assange as the publisher of Wikileaks should not face charges typically used against federal government employees who steal or leak information.

Many press freedom advocates have argued that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.

Assange was first arrested in Britain in 2010 on a European arrest warrant after Swedish authorities said they wanted to question him over sex-crime allegations that were later dropped.

He fled to Ecuador’s embassy, where he remained for seven years, to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was dragged out of the embassy in 2019 and jailed for skipping bail.

He has been in London’s Belmarsh top security jail ever since, from where he has for almost five years been fighting extradition to the US.

While in Belmarsh he married his partner Stella with whom he had two children while he was holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy.

With AAP

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