Julian Assange to plead guilty to U.S. charges in exchange for freedom, court documents reveal

Julian Assange

25th June 2024 – (London) Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is prepared to enter a guilty plea to US criminal charges as part of an agreement that would result in his release, court documents reveal. The charges against the 52-year-old Assange include conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information. The United States has long argued that the release of Wikileaks files, which exposed information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, put lives at risk.

Assange has spent the past five years in a British prison, where he has been fighting against extradition to the U.S. However, according to CBS, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s U.S. partner, Assange will not face U.S. custody and will receive credit for his time served in the U.K. Instead, he will return to his home country of Australia, as confirmed by a letter from the justice department.

The finalisation of the agreement, in which Assange will plead guilty to one charge, is expected to take place in a court located in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday, 26th June. These remote Pacific islands, as a U.S. commonwealth, offer closer proximity to Australia compared to U.S. federal courts in Hawaii or the mainland United States.

A spokesperson for the Australian government, quoted by Agence France Press, expressed the view that the case had “dragged on for too long.” Richard Miller, Assange’s attorney, declined to comment on the matter when contacted by CBS. The BBC has also reached out to his US-based lawyer for further information.

Assange and his legal team have consistently maintained that the case against him is politically motivated. In April, U.S. President Joe Biden disclosed that he was considering a request from Australia to drop the prosecution against Assange. Subsequently, in a significant victory the following month, the U.K. High Court granted Assange permission to appeal against his extradition to the U.S. This ruling allows him to challenge US assurances concerning the conduct of his prospective trial and the potential infringement of his right to free speech.

Originally, US prosecutors sought to try the Wikileaks founder on 18 counts, primarily under the Espionage Act, related to the release of classified US military records and diplomatic messages pertaining to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Assange’s organization, Wikileaks, established in 2006, claims to have published over 10 million documents, which the US government later referred to as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

One of Assange’s most notable collaborators, Chelsea Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, received a 35-year prison sentence. However, her sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama in 2017. Assange also faced separate charges of rape and sexual assault in Sweden, which he vehemently denied. After seeking refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy for seven years, citing fears of extradition to the U.S., Swedish authorities dropped the case in 2019 due to the passage of time. Nonetheless, U.K. authorities subsequently took him into custody for failing to surrender to the courts for extradition to Sweden.

Throughout the protracted legal battles, Assange has remained largely out of the public eye and reportedly suffered from ill health, including a minor stroke while in prison in 2021.