Wikileaks says Assange has left British prison, flew out of UK

By Sarah N. Lynch, Andrew Goudsward, Reuters

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is due to plead guilty this week to violating US espionage law, in a deal that will end his imprisonment in Britain and allow him to return home to Australia, ending a long legal odyssey.

Assange, 52, has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defense documents, according to filings in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

Assange is due to be sentenced to 62 months of time already served at a hearing on the island of Saipan at 2300 GMT on Tuesday. He is expected to return home after that hearing.

A lawyer for Assange did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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 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.

This screen shot courtesy of WikiLeaks X page shows Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London on June 24, 2024. The 52-year-old Australian was taken Monday, June 24, from Belmarsh prison to London's Stansted airport, a Wikileaks statement said, from where he boarded a flight to an unnamed destination.

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.

An Australian government spokesperson said: “Prime Minister (Anthony) 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.”

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.

Stella Assange, the wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, addresses supporters outside The Royal Courts of Justice, Britain's High Court, in central London on May 20, 2024, after hearing the news that his bid to appeal against his extradition to the US had been granted. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on May 20, 2024 won his UK court bid to appeal against a previous ruling approving his extradition to the United States to face trial on espionage charges. Two High Court judges granted Assange permission to appeal, having previously asked the US to provide "satisfactory assurances" about free speech protections if he were to stand trial in the US. (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP)

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 United States.

Those five years of confinement are similar to the sentence imposed on Reality Winner, an Air Force veteran and former intelligence contractor, who was sentenced to 63 months after she removed classified materials and mailed them to a news outlet.

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

– Reuters

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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