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Julian Assange Secures Plea Deal with US Prosecutors, Set to Return to Australia

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be relieved today as his prolonged legal battle over leaked documents concludes with a plea deal reached with US prosecutors, allowing him to walk free after years of confinement

Following the announcement of the deal, Assange left London and headed to Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth near Guam. He is expected to return to Australia after his court appearance on Wednesday morning.

Also read: Julian Assange’s US Extradition Decision Expected from British Court | 13 years of legal battle

Assange’s family expressed their satisfaction with the outcome. His mother, Christine Assange, stated: “I am grateful that my son’s ordeal is finally coming to an end. This shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy.” His father, John Shipton, thanked the Australian government, saying, “It looks as though Julian will be free to come back to Australia. My thanks and congratulations to all his supporters… that have made that possible, and of course, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese,” he told ABC News. He added, “I don’t fade easily, you know. And neither does Julian. It must be a family trait.”

Let’s take a closer look at the case involving Julian Assange and how he secured a deal with the US for his freedom.

What was the case against Julian Assange?

Julian Assange, an Australian editor and publisher, gained international attention in 2010 when WikiLeaks released nearly half a million documents related to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US government accused him of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a military intelligence analyst, to use WikiLeaks to disclose tens of thousands of reports, revealing US military misconduct abroad. The Trump administration charged him with endangering national security and conspiring to crack a Defense Department password. John Demers, a former top Justice Department national security official, stated, “Julian Assange is no journalist. No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in war zones, exposing them to the gravest of dangers.”

Why wasn’t he arrested and imprisoned earlier?

Assange spent five years in the high-security Belmarsh Prison near London, resisting US extradition efforts. Before that, he lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, avoiding an investigation by Swedish authorities over sexual misconduct allegations, which were later dropped. At Belmarsh, Assange was confined to a cell for 23 hours a day, eating alone and allowed only an hour for exercise, according to an account published in The Nation this year.

What’s the deal now?

After years of fighting extradition to the US, Assange has struck a deal with authorities granting him freedom. Under the deal, he will plead guilty to the felony charge under the Espionage Act of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified information related to the national defense of the United States, according to a Justice Department letter filed in federal court. He will be sentenced to 62 months, equivalent to the time he has already served in UK prisons. The guilty plea must be approved by a judge, which is why Assange is traveling to Saipan, the capital of the Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific. The case is being heard there due to Assange’s previous refusal to face proceedings in the US and the area’s proximity to his home in Australia.

While the development may surprise some, it was not entirely unexpected. Australian politicians have lobbied for his release, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese raising the issue during a visit to the White House last October, urging the US to conclude the matter.

How has the world reacted?

Assange’s parents and wife are overjoyed with the conclusion of the 14-year-long saga. His wife, Stella, thanked supporters for their advocacy, expressing immense gratitude on social media. However, not everyone is pleased with the outcome. Former US vice president Mike Pence criticized the plea deal as a “miscarriage of justice” that “dishonors” US troops. He wrote on social media that Assange endangered the lives of military personnel and should have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, arguing against any plea deals for those endangering national security.

Conversely, Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. praised Assange’s release, calling him a generational hero, but noted that by agreeing to a guilty plea, the US security state succeeded in criminalizing journalism and extending its jurisdiction globally to non-citizens.

With inputs from various agencies.

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