WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released after plea deal ends 14-year legal saga-Xinhua

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released after plea deal ends 14-year legal saga

Source: Xinhua| 2024-06-27 13:42:00|Editor:

NEW YORK, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was released from custody on Tuesday, ending a 14-year legal saga with his plea deal with the United States.

He pleaded guilty to a single felony count of violating the Espionage Act, allowing him to return to his country Australia without serving additional prison time in the United States.

Assange admitted to "unlawfully obtaining and disseminating classified information relating to the national defense" in a federal court in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands. Chief U.S. District Judge Ramona V. Manglona declared him a "free man" after accepting his guilty plea and citing the time he had already spent in a British prison.

Assange's lengthy legal battle with the U.S. government began in 2010, when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military documents regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2012, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations and potential extradition to the United States.

After spending seven years in the embassy, Assange was arrested by British authorities in 2019 when Ecuador revoked his asylum. He then spent five years in Belmarsh Prison in London, fighting extradition to the United States.

Assange's supporters viewed him as a whistleblower exposing government wrongdoing, while his critics share grave concerns about the potential harm caused by his leaks.

The U.S. administration has been facing increasing pressure from the United Nations and allies such as Australia and Germany, all urging the United States to drop the extradition and expedite the case.

In February, the Australian parliament passed a motion calling for Assange's release and return to his home country.

In April, U.S. President Joe Biden said that his administration was "considering" Australia's request.

According to court filings released Monday evening, Assange has reached the tentative deal with U.S. Justice Department. The plea deal was arranged in Saipan, where Assange flew to earlier this year after leaving the British prison, to accommodate Assange's refusal to travel to the continental United States.

The Criminal Information filed alongside the agreement indicated that Assange "knowingly and unlawfully conspired" with Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, to obtain and disseminate classified documents.

Following the court hearing, Assange boarded a private jet to Canberra.

Assange's U.S. lawyer, Barry Pollack, expressed relief and stated that Assange never should have been charged under the Espionage Act.

Jennifer Robinson, Assange's British and Australian lawyer, thanked the Australian government for its diplomatic efforts. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stressed the need for a careful and patient approach to resolving the matter.

While Assange's legal battle in the United States has concluded, the debate over his actions and their implications for press freedom and national security is likely to continue.