‘Julian Assange Is Free’ – WikiLeaks Founder Walks Free After U.S. Plea Deal

Assange agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information, but plea limits jail time to 5 years served.

by Mihir Bagwe June 25th, 2024

Assange snapped in a chartered flight to Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, where the official hearing and sentencing is scheduled. (Source: WikiLeaks)

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After a 14-year legal battle, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walked out of the United Kingdom’s Belmarsh prison Monday morning, where he agreed to a plea deal with the United States.

According to court documents, Assange agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information, which violates espionage law in the United States.

The sole charge carries a sentence of 62 months in prison, but under the plea deal the time he has already served in the UK prison — a little over 62 months — will be counted as time served. Thus, Assange will not be required to spend any more time behind bars in the U.S., the UK or anywhere else.

WikiLeaks and Human Rights Groups Celebrate Assange’s Release

In a statement on platform X, WikiLeaks wrote, “Julian Assange is free.”

“He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of 24 June, after having spent 1901 days there. He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.” – WikiLeaks

Assange is being flown to Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands and a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific Ocean. The formal hearing and sentencing is set to take place in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands at 9 a.m. local time Wednesday. Assange was reluctant to fly to the mainland U.S., his prosecutors said, and thus Saipan was decided as an alternative due to its proximity with Australia.

If the guilty plea is approved by the judge – as is expected – the WikiLeaks founder will head to Australia after the sentencing.

Human rights organization Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard welcomed the “positive news.”

“We firmly believe that Julian Assange should never have been imprisoned in the first place and have continuously called for charges to be dropped.” – Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard 

“The years-long global spectacle of the US authorities hell-bent on violating press freedom and freedom of expression by making an example of Assange for exposing alleged war crimes committed by the USA has undoubtedly done historic damage,” Callamard said.

“Amnesty International salutes the work of Julian Assange’s family, campaigners, lawyers, press freedom organizations and many within the media community and beyond who have stood by him and the fundamental principles that should govern society’s right and access to information and justice.”

The Mexican President Andrés Manuel, sounded a similar sentiment and said:

“I celebrate the release of Julian Assange from prison. At least in this case, the Statue of Liberty did not remain an empty symbol; She is alive and happy like millions in the world.”

Brief Timeline of Julian Assange Espionage Case

Julian Assange, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, gained prominence after the site published more than 90,000 classified U.S. military documents on the Afghanistan war and about 400,000 classified U.S. documents on the Iraq war.

After the release of these documents via WikiLeaks, Assange was indicted by the U.S. on 18 counts, including 17 espionage charges under the 1917 Espionage Act and one for computer misuse, where he allegedly gained unauthorized access to a government computer system of a NATO country.

In 2012, Assange communicated directly with a leader of the hacking group LulzSec (who by then was cooperating with the FBI), and provided a list of targets for LulzSec to hack, the indictment said. With respect to one target, Assange asked the LulzSec leader to look for (and provide to WikiLeaks) mail and documents, databases and PDFs. In another communication, Assange told the LulzSec leader that the most impactful release of hacked materials would be from the CIA, NSA, or the New York Times.

WikiLeaks obtained and published emails from a data breach committed against an American intelligence consulting company by an “Anonymous” and LulzSec-affiliated hacker. According to that hacker, Assange indirectly asked him to spam that victim company again.

An August 2010 arrest warrant for sexual assault allegations in Sweden was initially dropped but later reopened, leading to an international arrest warrant against him. Assange then sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In 2019, Ecuador revoked his asylum, and he was arrested by London police and sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail conditions.

Swedish prosecutors dropped their case in 2019 because the passage of time had weakened evidence, but they said they retained confidence in the complainant.

Assange’s Freedom Starts ‘a New Chapter’

Stella Assange, the WikiLeaks founder’s wife, was elated and thanked everyone who stood by her husband. “Throughout the years of Julian’s imprisonment and persecution, an incredible movement has been formed. People from all walks of life from around the world who support not just Julian … but what Julian stands for: truth and justice,” Stella Assange said. “What starts now with Julian’s freedom is a new chapter.”

It will be interesting to see if Assange will be back at the helm of WikiLeaks and if he will keep his fight on against human right exploitations but for now it seems like he would be eager to reunite with his wife Stella Assange, and his children, “who have only known their father from behind bars.”

Update* (June 25 1:30 p.m. ET): Added comments from Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard and President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel.


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