Julian Assange was released under a US plea agreement

After a years-long legal saga, Wikileaks says founder Julian Assange has left the UK after reaching a deal with US authorities that would see him plead guilty to criminal charges and go free.

Assange, 52, was charged with conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information.

For years, the US has argued that the Wikileaks files – which revealed information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – were endangering lives.

He has spent the past five years in a British prison, where he is fighting extradition to the US.

According to CBS, the BBC’s US partner, Assange will not be detained in the United States and will receive credit for time spent in British custody.

Assange will return to Australia, according to a letter from the justice department.

On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Wikileaks said that Assange left Belmarsh prison earlier on Tuesday after 1,901 days in a small cell.

He was then “released to Stanstead Airport in the afternoon where he boarded a plane and departed the UK” to return to Australia, the statement added.

Video shared online by Wikileaks appears to show Assange, wearing jeans and a blue shirt, being taken to Stanstead before boarding the plane.

The BBC has been unable to independently verify the video.

His wife, Stella Assange, tweeted her thanks to his supporters “who have mobilized for years to make this happen”.

The agreement – under which he will plead guilty to one charge – is expected to be finalized in court in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday, June 26.

The remote Pacific islands, a commonwealth of the United States, are much closer to Australia than the US federal courts in Hawaii or the mainland United States.

Agence France Press quoted an Australian government spokesman as saying the incident had “dragged on too long”.

His attorney, Richard Miller, declined to comment when contacted by CBS. BBC has also contacted his lawyer in the US.

He and his lawyers have long claimed that the case against him is politically motivated.

In April, US President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the prosecution of Assange.

In a victory the following month, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Assange could make a fresh appeal against extradition to the United States, allowing him to challenge US assurances on how to proceed. his upcoming trial and whether his freedom of speech will be violated.

After the verdict, his wife Stella told reporters and supporters that the Biden administration “should stay away from this shameful prosecution.”

US prosecutors initially wanted to try the Wikileaks founder on 18 counts – mainly under the Espionage Act – for disclosing secret US military records and diplomatic messages related to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Wikileaks, founded by Assange in 2006, claimed to have published more than 10 million documents in what the US government later described as “one of the largest breaches of classified information in US history”.

In 2010, the website posted a video from a US military helicopter showing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters reporters, being killed in Baghdad.

One of Assange’s most famous collaborators, US military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, was sentenced to 35 years in prison before then-president Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017.

Assange also faces separate rape and sexual assault charges in Sweden, which he denies.

He spent seven years hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, claiming that the incident in Sweden would result in him being sent to the US.

Swedish authorities dropped the case in 2019, saying too much time had passed since the initial complaint, but British authorities later arrested him. He was tried for failing to surrender to the court to be extradited to Sweden.

Even amid protracted legal battles, Assange has rarely appeared in public and is said to have been in poor health for years, including a minor stroke in prison in 2021.


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