WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be freed after pleading guilty to US espionage charge

wikileaks founder julian assange to be freed after pleading guilty to us espionage charge

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

A plane believed to be carrying Julian Assange landed in Bangkok on Tuesday. The WikiLeaks founder is on the way to enter a plea deal with the US government that will free him and resolve a legal case that spanned years and continents over the publication of a trove of classified documents.

It is unclear if the plane is only refuelling or how Assange will continue travelling to the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific, where he will appear in court Wednesday morning Saipan time.

He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defence information, according to the US Justice Department in a letter filed in court.

Assange is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing.

The hearing is taking place in Saipan, the largest island in the Northern Marianas, because of Assange’s opposition to travelling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

The guilty plea, which a judge must approve, brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and the US government’s years-long pursuit of Assange.

The WikiLeaks founder said via his hugely popular secret-sharing website he was acting as a journalist to expose US military wrongdoing. Investigators, by contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke laws meant to protect sensitive information and put the country’s national security at risk.

Attorneys for Assange didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement posted on X, WikiLeaks said Assange boarded a plane and departed the United Kingdom on Monday after leaving the British prison, where he has spent the last five years.

WikiLeaks applauded the deal, saying it was grateful for “all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom.”

“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions. As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know,” WikiLeaks said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been lobbying for the United States to end its prosecution of Assange, told Parliament that an Australian envoy had flown with Assange from London.

“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long. "There's nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” Albanese added.

The deal ensures that Assange will admit guilt while also sparing him from any additional prison time. He had spent years hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Swedish authorities sought his arrest on rape allegations before being locked up in the United Kingdom.

Assange is expected to be sentenced to the five years he has already spent in the high-security British prison while fighting to avoid extradition to the US to face charges, a process that has played out in a series of hearings in London.

Last month, he won the right to appeal an extradition order after his lawyers argued that the US government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain.

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