Julian Assange Freed After US Plea Deal, Returns To Australia

Julian Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange lands at military airbase in Australia, after being freed by UK following plea deal with United States

The legal trial of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looks to be finally over, after a number of rapid developments this week.

On Wednesday a plane carrying Julian Assange touched down at Canberra’s military airbase in Australia, after a surprising couple of days that began when Assange departed the UK on Monday and then appear in a court in the US Pacific island territory of Saipan on Wednesday, where he pleaded guilty to violating US espionage law.

That plea deal with the United States set Assange free and allowed him to return home to Australia and has effectively ended an extraordinary 14-year legal saga.

Leaving UK

In a post on X, WikiLeaks said Assange left Belmarsh prison on Monday morning after being granted bail by the High Court in London.

By Monday afternoon Assange was at Stansted Airport where he boarded a chartered plane and departed the United Kingdom.

The charter flight cost $520,000 and apparently has to be paid by Assange to the Australian government.

Wikileaks is trying to crowdsource the funds to pay for it.

Plea deal in Saipan

Assange’s plane then landed on Wednesday on the remote island of Saipan, the US’s smallest and most remote federal district court, where he accepted a plea deal reached between Assange and the US government.

The terms of the plea deal required Assange to admit guilt to one criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents, the Guardian newspaper reported.

During the hearing, Assange reportedly said he had believed the US first amendment, which protects free speech, shielded his activities.

“Working as a journalist I encouraged my source to provide information that was said to be classified in order to publish that information,” he reportedly told the court. “I believed the first amendment protected that activity but I accept that it was … a violation of the espionage statute.”

“We reject those sentiments but accept that he believes them,” US government attorney Matthew McKenzie was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying.

McKenzie then reportedly detailed the extensive information that WikiLeaks had published or obtained from its source, Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for her act but served seven after the sentence was commuted by fromer president Barack Obama.

In the end, the chief US district judge Ramona V Manglona accepted Assange’s guilty plea and released him without supervision due to time already served.

Closing the hearing, she reportedly said: “With this pronouncement it appears you will be able to walk out of this courtroom a free man. I hope there will be some peace restored.”

Assange, appearing emotional, hugged his legal team, the Guardian reported.

In return for pleading guilty, Assange was sentenced to time served, with no supervisory period or financial penalty, due to time already served in Belmarsh prison in London, the Guardian reported.

Assange then flew out of Saipan, headed for Canberra in Australia.

Immediately after the three-hour hearing, the US government reportedly withdrew its extradition request from the UK, dropped all remaining charges pending in the US, and banned Assange from returning to the US without permission.

Australia arrival

His barrister, Jen Robinson, tweeted the news that Assange was on a plane back to Australia to be reunited with his wife Stella Assange and his two young sons, Gabriel and Max.

They had travelled to Australia on Sunday when it became clear Assange would be freed.

After landing, a dishevelled-looking Assange stuck his head out of the plane and punched the air before descending the aircraft stairs to the cheers of onlookers and supporters.

Assange waved to them and the press, and then hugged, kissed and lifted his wife into the air, and then also hugged his father John Shipton who has waged a decade-long campaign to free his son.

Back in Australia

Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, reacted to Assange’s arrival back in Australia with the following statement.

“Earlier tonight, but you probably knew this, Julian Assange was reunited with his family here in Australia,” Albanese said.

“He’s arrival home, ends a long-running legal process, a plea agreement between Mr Assange and the United States states Department of Justice was accepted by a US court in Saipan earlier today.”

“I do want to express my appreciation to the United States and the United Kingdom for their efforts in making this possible,” said the Australian Prime Minister.