Julian Assange boards plane to Australia, ending years of legal limbo with U.S. plea deal

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Julian Assange

25th June 2024 – (London) Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks, has left the United Kingdom bound for Australia. This departure comes after a plea agreement was reached with U.S. authorities, ending over a decade of legal battles and confinement.

Assange, who had been housed in London’s high-security HMP Belmarsh, was seen departing for Stansted Airport at 5pm, WikiLeaks confirmed. Video footage released by the group depicted Assange en route to the airport, marking a significant moment in his long-standing legal ordeal.

The plea deal, which involves a single charge of hacking, is expected to be formally approved by a US federal judge. It stipulates a 62-month sentence, coincidentally matching the duration Assange has already spent in custody. Following the court proceedings, set to occur in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, Assange is anticipated to return to his native Australia.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010 when WikiLeaks released a trove of over 700,000 classified US documents related to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic communications. This release, which remains one of the largest information leaks in US military history, led to charges under the Espionage Act. Initially, Assange faced 18 counts potentially carrying a sentence of up to 175 years.

His refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London started in 2012, where he sought asylum to evade extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which were later dropped. Relations with his hosts soured over time, leading to his eviction and subsequent arrest by British authorities in 2019.

The resolution of Assange’s case has been a focal point for debates on press freedom, with advocates arguing that prosecuting Assange could set a dangerous precedent for journalists everywhere. The plea deal, therefore, has been viewed as a compromise, mitigating the potential life sentence while acknowledging the complexities of Assange’s actions.

Assange’s wife, Stella, expressed her relief and gratitude on social media, celebrating his newfound freedom and the end of what she described as a prolonged and unjust ordeal. Supporters and press freedom advocates around the world have echoed this sentiment, albeit with reservations about the implications of his plea agreement.

The U.S. Department of Justice, while pursuing the case, has faced international scrutiny and pressure, especially from Australian officials who have advocated for an end to Assange’s prolonged legal battles. Recent comments from President Joe Biden hinted at diplomatic pressures contributing to the resolution of the case.