WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looking out of the window as his plane from London approaches Bangkok for a layover at Don Mueang International Airport in the Thai capital. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been released from prison in Britain and is set to face a final court hearing after reaching a plea deal with US authorities that brings to a close his years-long legal drama. A charter plane flew the 52-year-old from London to Bangkok, where it made a scheduled stop to refuel. Photo: WikiLeaks / AFP / LEHTIKUVA

International news

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been released from prison in the United Kingdom and is en route to Australia after agreeing to a plea deal with the United States. Assange, 52, will plead guilty to a single charge of breaching US espionage law, specifically one count of conspiracy to obtain and disclose classified national defense documents.

Assange was freed from Belmarsh maximum security prison on June 24, after spending 1901 days there.

He boarded a plane at Stansted airport and left the UK, with his first stop in Bangkok to refuel before heading to the US Pacific territory of Saipan for a court hearing.

Court Proceedings and Plea Deal

Assange will appear at a court in Saipan at 9 am on June 26 (23:00 GMT on June 25), where he is expected to be sentenced to 62 months, accounting for time already served. After the hearing, he will return to Australia.

WikiLeaks announced Assange's release on social media, stating, "Julian Assange is free." A video posted by WikiLeaks showed Assange in casual attire, signing a document before boarding a private jet.

Family Reactions and Political Responses

Assange’s wife, Stella, expressed her elation, saying, “It’s incredible that Julian is set to be freed. I’m just elated.” His mother, Christine Assange, also shared her relief, emphasizing the power of quiet diplomacy in securing his release.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed the news, stating, “Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange and his activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration, and we want him brought home to Australia.”

Historical Context and Legal Battles

Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006, creating a platform for whistleblowers to anonymously submit classified materials. The organization gained global attention with the release of footage showing a US Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad and the subsequent publication of hundreds of thousands of classified US documents related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2010, Assange was arrested in London on a Swedish warrant over sexual assault charges, which were later dropped. He sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition. After seven years, he was arrested in 2019 and held in Belmarsh prison while the US sought his extradition on 17 counts of breaching the Espionage Act.

Reactions from Press Freedom Advocates

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of the Committee to Protect Journalists, praised the plea deal, highlighting the global implications if Assange had been prosecuted under the Espionage Act. “It would have had serious implications for journalists globally who seek information in the public interest,” she said.

Barnaby Joyce, a former deputy prime minister of Australia, commented on the significance of the outcome, noting that it sets a strong precedent that Australians should not be charged by other countries for alleged crimes not committed on their soil.

Timeline of Events

  • 2006: Julian Assange starts WikiLeaks.
  • 2010: WikiLeaks releases classified US documents, leading to Assange’s arrest in the UK on Swedish charges.
  • 2012: Assange takes refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy.
  • 2019: Ecuador revokes his asylum, leading to his arrest and the US seeking extradition.
  • 2020-2023: Legal battles in the UK over US extradition.
  • February 2024: Australian government requests the US to drop the case.
  • June 2024: Assange pleads guilty to a single charge and is released from UK prison.

Assange’s release marks the end of a prolonged legal and diplomatic struggle, bringing relief to his supporters and family while raising important questions about press freedom and international legal principles.