Julian Assange Released from UK Prison Following US Plea Deal

This plea bargain agreement will presumably conclude Assange's nearly 14-year legal ordeal.
Julian Assange Released from UK Prison Following US Plea Deal
Julian Assange Released from UK Prison Following US Plea Deal

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has agreed to plead guilty in a US court to charges of revealing military secrets in exchange for his freedom, bringing an end to his prolonged legal drama. This development was confirmed by court documents released Monday night.

Assange, who has been in custody in Britain, will plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate national defense information. The plea deal was filed in court in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific.

Early Tuesday morning, British time, WikiLeaks reported that "Julian Assange is free" and had left the country. He is scheduled to appear Wednesday morning local time in the US territory.

Assange is expected to be sentenced to 62 months in prison, with credit for the five years he has already served in British custody. This arrangement means he could soon return to his native Australia.

At 52, the publisher had been wanted by Washington for publishing hundreds of thousands of secret US documents in 2010 as head of WikiLeaks. His actions made him a hero to free speech advocates worldwide but a villain to those who believed he endangered US national security and intelligence sources.

US authorities sought to prosecute Assange for exposing US military secrets related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This plea bargain agreement will presumably conclude Assange's nearly 14-year legal ordeal.

A US federal grand jury indicted Assange in 2019 on 18 counts stemming from WikiLeaks' publication of a trove of national security documents. The announcement of the plea deal comes two weeks before Assange was scheduled to appear in a British court to appeal against a ruling approving his extradition to the United States.

Assange has been detained in the high-security Belmarsh prison in London since April 2019. He was arrested after spending seven years in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced and eventually had accusations of sexual assault dropped.

Among the material he released was a video showing civilians being killed by fire from a US helicopter gunship in Iraq in 2007, including two Reuters journalists. The US accused Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, with supporters warning that he could face up to 175 years in prison.

The British government approved his extradition in June 2022. In a recent twist, two British judges ruled in May that Assange could appeal against his extradition, raising the question of whether he, as a foreigner on trial in America, would be granted the protection of freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

The plea deal, while not entirely unexpected, follows President Joe Biden's growing pressure to drop the long-running case against Assange. In February, the Australian government made an official request to this effect, with Biden indicating he would consider it, offering hope to Assange's supporters that his ordeal might soon end.

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