WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleads guilty to espionage charge in US federal court on Pacific island of Saipan

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder  has pleaded guilty to a single espionage charge in a US federal court on the Pacific island of Saipan, making a joke as he did so. He was seen wearing a suit and tie as he entered the US Federal Courthouse at around 8am local time on Wednesday.

Court Proceedings

The 52-year-old, sworn into court today, introduced himself to the judge, Honorable Ramona V Manglona, saying, “My name is Julian Paul Assange.” When the charge of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US documents was read to him, he pleaded guilty and confirmed that no one had bribed, intimidated, or coerced him into his plea.

A Quip in Court

After the judge inquired if he was satisfied with the proceedings, Assange quipped that it would depend on the outcome. His lawyer quickly added, “No pressure, your honor.”

Background and Legal Battle

Assange has been wanted since 2010 when WikiLeaks released a vast number of classified US military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with diplomatic cables. In 2012, facing additional “credible and reliable” sex crime allegations from a woman in Sweden, he sought refuge in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, where he stayed for seven years.

Plea Deal Amendments

Today, the judge mentioned an amendment to the plea deal, with US prosecutors noting some slight changes to the language of the deal. Prosecutors also stated they were not seeking any forfeiture from Assange.

Potential Sentencing

Although he has pleaded guilty in exchange for his freedom, Assange might still face a probation period of one to five years. Local media reported that almost all seats in the public gallery were filled for this decade-long case.

Return to Australia

Assange’s flight, under the call sign VJT199, arrived in Saipan at 6:14am local time. He is expected to fly back to Australia to reunite with his wife Stella and their two children. WikiLeaks confirmed he is expected to fly to Canberra from Saipan.

Extradition and Release

Assange was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in 2019 and held in Belmarsh Prison while the US sought his extradition. However, the legal process ended abruptly, with WikiLeaks announcing his release with a post on X: “Julian Assange is free!”

Pre-recorded Video

In a pre-recorded video outside Belmarsh prison, Assange’s wife Stella and WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson confirmed his release, expressing their relief.

Costs and Fundraising

Assange will pay half a million US dollars (£394,000) for a chartered flight from Stansted, accompanied by a WikiLeaks lawyer, an Australian government representative, and a medic. WikiLeaks has launched a fundraising campaign to cover the flight costs.

Details of His Departure

Kristinn Hrafnsson detailed Assange’s departure from Stansted Airport, highlighting the heavy police presence and strict security measures.

Reaction from Stella Assange

Stella Assange expressed relief at her husband’s release, mingled with anger over his prolonged imprisonment. She traveled to Australia with their two sons once it became clear Assange would be freed.

Plea Agreement

Assange will plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of obtaining and disclosing information of national importance. Prosecutors will seek a 62-month sentence, equivalent to his time served in Belmarsh.

Judge’s Approval Needed

The plea deal requires approval from the federal judge, Honorable Ramona Manglona, who is expected to endorse it at today’s hearing.

Statements from Stella Assange

From Australia, Stella Assange expressed her mixed emotions, grateful for her husband’s impending freedom but angry about his long imprisonment. She credited Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for his role in Assange’s release.

Comments from Australian PM

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been vocal about his desire to see Assange’s charges dropped. He emphasized that Assange’s prolonged incarceration served no purpose and expressed a desire to bring him home to Australia.

Comments from John Sheehan

John Sheehan, head of extradition at the CPS, remarked on the complexity of Assange’s case and the legal efforts required to facilitate his release.

Amnesty International’s Response

Simon Crowther from Amnesty International welcomed Assange’s release, criticizing his imprisonment and highlighting the importance of freedom of expression.

WikiLeaks Statement

In a statement, WikiLeaks thanked supporters and highlighted the extensive global campaign that led to Assange’s release.

Australian PM’s Address

Anthony Albanese reiterated his government’s efforts to support Assange and expressed hope for a swift conclusion to the legal proceedings.

Family Reactions

Assange’s father, John Shipton, and mother, Christine Assange, expressed their relief and gratitude at his release, reflecting on the toll of the past 14 years.

Legal Battle Overview

Assange’s long legal battle included a stay in the Ecuadorian embassy and a protracted fight against extradition, which saw a significant ruling in January 2021 against his extradition due to suicide risk.

Extradition Block Overturned

US authorities later overturned the block on his extradition, leading to Assange’s eventual release and the current plea deal.

Secret Bail Hearing

Details of Assange’s bail hearing on June 20 were kept private, with the CPS later confirming the hearing took place behind closed doors under strict legal protocols.

Final Release and Transport

Assange’s final release involved a coordinated effort and significant security measures, culminating in his departure from the UK and expected return to Australia.

Future Prospects

Assange’s future includes reuniting with his family and transitioning to life outside of incarceration, with continued advocacy for freedom of expression.

More updates will follow as the story develops.

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