Julian Assange, Founder of WikiLeaks, Agrees to Plead Guilty in a Deal with the US

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange agreed to plead guilty Monday to a single felony count of illegally obtaining and disclosing national security documents in exchange for his release from a British prison, period ending the long and bitter tense relationship with the United States.

Mr. Assange, 52, has been ordered to appear before a federal judge at one of the federal judiciary’s more remote facilities, the courthouse in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, according to a filing. Brief court records were released late Monday. According to a law enforcement official familiar with the terms of the deal, he is expected to be sentenced to about five years, equivalent to the time he has served in England.

It was a fitting final twist in the case against Mr. Assange, who firmly opposes extradition to the US mainland. The archipelago is a US commonwealth in the middle of the Pacific – and much closer to Mr Assange’s native Australia, where he is a citizen, than to courts in the US mainland or Hawaii.

Shortly after the deal was revealed, WikiLeaks said that Mr. Assange has left London. Mr. Assange is scheduled to appear in Saipan at 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday and is expected to fly back to Australia “at the conclusion of the proceedings,” said Matthew J. McKenzie, an official with the Justice Department’s counterterrorism division, wrote in a report. letter to the judge in the case.

Early Tuesday morning, his wife, Stella Assange, posted a video about her husband signing paperwork and boarding a plane on Monday.

Barring last-minute setbacks, the deal would end a long war that began after Assange was alternately praised and criticized for leaking state secrets in the 2010s.

These documents include about US military operations in Iraq And Afghanistanas Secret telegrams were shared among diplomats. During the 2016 campaign, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, leading to revelations that Embarrass the party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

In 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Assange on 18 counts related to WikiLeaks’ dissemination of a series of national security documents. They include a trove of documents sent to the organization by Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who provided information about military planning and operations nearly a decade earlier.

If convicted, Mr. Assange could face a maximum sentence of 170 years in federal prison. Until Monday night, Mr. Assange was being held at Belmarsh, one of Britain’s highest-security prisons, in southeast London.

According to one report, Mr. Assange was kept in his cell for 23 hours a day, ate alone on a tray, surrounded by 232 books, and was only allowed to exercise for one hour a day in the prison yard. published in The Nation this year.

When asked about his pale condition, Mr. Assange – who has not been able to go out without supervision for more than a decade – joked: “They call it paleness in prison.”

His release was not a surprise. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia suggested that US prosecutors needed to close the case, and President Biden signaled that he was ready to come up with a quick resolution. Top Justice Department officials accepted a deal with no additional prison time because Mr. Assange has already served longer than most people charged with similar crimes — in this case more than five years in prison in Older brother.

At moment later The charges were sealed in 2019, London Metropolitan Police stormed the Ecuadorian embassy, ​​where Mr. Assange had sought refuge years earlier to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault. He has been detained since then as his legal team has fought the Justice Department’s efforts to extradite him.

After weeks of negotiations, Mr. Assange pleaded guilty to one of the charges in the indictment – conspiracy to disseminate national defense information – which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Mr. Assange and his supporters have long argued that his efforts to collect and publicize sensitive national security information are in the public interest and deserve protections. same under the First Amendment for investigative journalists.

Many of Mr. Assange’s supporters echoed those concerns even as they expressed relief that he would be released.

“For the first time in the more than 100-year history of the Espionage Act, the United States has been convicted under the Espionage Act for the first time,” said David Greene, director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation Civil Liberties, a nonprofit organization. with basic journalistic conduct”. focuses on First Amendment issues.

“These charges should never have been brought,” he said.

in 2021a coalition of civil liberties and human rights groups has called on the Biden administration to drop efforts to extradite him from Britain and prosecute him, calling the case a “serious threat” to freedom newspapers.

The group argued that much of the conduct he was accused of was what “journalists regularly engage in.” “News organizations regularly and necessarily publish classified information to inform the public about issues of profound public significance.”

But US officials believe that Mr. Assange’s actions go beyond gathering information and endanger national security. Prosecutors claim that the material provided by Ms. Manning endangered the lives of service members and Iraqis working in the military, and made it more difficult for the country to fight threats. threats from outside.

Mr Assange remains in Belmarsh because he has repeatedly defied orders to remove him. Last month, Mr. Assange won the bid to appeal the extradition order.

Afterwards, Ms. Assange, who married Mr. Assange after joining his legal team fighting his extradition attempt to Sweden, told supporters gathered outside the central London court that the case should be be cancelled.

“The Biden administration should stay away from this shameful prosecution,” said Ms. Assange, who secretly began a relationship with Mr. Assange while he was living in the Ecuadorian embassy. The couple has two young sons.

Mr. Assange rarely appears in public because his case has been brought to court on grounds of health problems. In 2021, Mr. Assange suffered a mild stroke while in prison. He did not attend the May hearing due to undisclosed health reasons.

Ms. Assange, in another video posted to social media early Tuesday, said was recorded outside Belmarsh prison last weeksaid development has happened very quickly.

“I firmly believe that this phase of our lives is over,” she said. She added, “What begins now, with Julian’s freedom, is a new chapter.”


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