Julian Assange to be freed in plea deal

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is due to plead guilty to violating United States espionage law in a deal that ends his imprisonment in Britain and allows him to return home to Australia, ending a 14-year legal odyssey.

Assange has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents, according to filings in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

The 52-year-old is due to be sentenced to 62 months of time already served at a hearing in Saipan at 9am (local time) on Wednesday. The island in the Pacific was chosen due to Assange's opposition to travelling to the mainland US and for its proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

Assange left Belmarsh prison in England on Monday before being bailed by the UK High Court and boarding a flight that afternoon, WikiLeaks said in a statement posted on social media platform X.

"This is the result of a global campaign that spanned grass-roots organisers, press freedom campaigners, legislators and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange boards a plane at a location given as London, Britain, in this...
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange boards a plane at a location given as London, Britain, in this still image from video. Photo: Reuters
A video posted on X by WikiLeaks showed Assange dressed in a blue shirt and jeans signing a document before boarding a private jet with the markings of charter firm VistaJet.

He will return to Australia after the hearing, the Wikileaks statement added, referring to the hearing in Saipan.

"Julian is free!!!!" his wife, Stella Assange, said in a post on X.

"Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU - yes YOU, who have all mobilised for years and years to make this come true."

The only VistaJet plane that departed Stansted on Monday afternoon was headed to Bangkok, FlightRadar24 data shows. A spokesperson for Assange in Australia declined to comment on his flight plans. VistaJet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Australian government has been pressing for Assange's release and on Tuesday Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he wanted Assange back home as soon as possible. 

"Regardless of the views that people have about Mr Assange (and) his activities, the case has dragged on for too long," Albanese said in parliament.

"There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia."

A lawyer for Assange did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Julian Assange holds a document at a location given as London on Monday. Image: "@wikileaks" via...
Julian Assange holds a document at a location given as London on Monday. Image: "@wikileaks" via X/Handout via Reuters


In April 2010, WikiLeaks released a video showing a 2007 US helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff. In June, a US military specialist named Bradley Manning was arrested for releasing the classified video.

Three months later, WikiLeaks released more than 91,000 documents, most of which were secret US military reports about the war in Afghanistan. That was followed in October by the release of some 400,000 classified US military files chronicling the Iraq war from 2004 to 2009.

The releases were the largest leak of their kind in US military history.

Later that same year, WikiLeaks released thousands of US diplomatic cables that included candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of security threats. These included cables from the former king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah, repeatedly urging the US to attack Iran's nuclear program and others about China directing cyberattacks on the United States.

Assange was indicted during former President Donald Trump's administration over WikiLeaks' mass release of secret US documents. Manning was also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

The charges against Assange sparked outrage among his many global supporters who have long argued that Assange as the publisher of WikiLeaks should not face charges typically used against federal government employees who steal or leak information.

Many press freedom advocates have argued that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.

"A plea deal would avert the worst-case scenario for press freedom, but this deal contemplates that Assange will have served five years in prison for activities that journalists engage in every day," said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of free speech organization Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

"It will cast a long shadow over the most important kinds of journalism, not just in this country but around the world."

Stella Assange outside the Belmarsh prison in London on Monday. Photo: Reuters
Stella Assange outside the Belmarsh prison in London on Monday. Photo: Reuters


Assange was first arrested in Britain in 2010 on a European arrest warrant after Swedish authorities said they wanted to question him over sex-crime allegations that were later dropped. He fled to Ecuador's embassy, where he remained for seven years, to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was dragged out of the embassy in 2019 and jailed for skipping bail. He has been in London's Belmarsh top security jail ever since, from where he has for almost five years been fighting extradition to the United States.

Those five years of confinement are similar to the sentence imposed on Reality Winner, an Air Force veteran and former intelligence contractor, who was sentenced to 63 months after she removed classified materials and mailed them to a news outlet.

While in Belmarsh, Assange married his partner Stella with whom he had two children while he was holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy.


On its website, WikiLeaks says it is a multinational media organisation that specialises in analysing and publishing databases of censored or otherwise restricted materials involving wars, spying and corruption.

It was founded by Assange in 2006 and lists several international media organisations among its co-publishers, research partners and funders. It also says that it is a not-for-profit organisation that is funded through public donations.

"WikiLeaks is a giant library of the world's most persecuted documents," Assange said of the organisation in an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel in 2015. "We give asylum to these documents, we analyse them, we promote them and we obtain more."

The most controversial leaks by WikiLeaks featured classified U.S. military documents and videos from the war it waged in Iran and Afghanistan in the early to mid 2000s that it said highlighted issues such as abuse of prisoners in US custody, human rights violations and civilian deaths.

US authorities said the leaks were reckless, damaged national security, and endangered the lives of agents. Assange's many supporters said the site upheld free speech and attempts to prosecute him were an assault on journalism.


No. A loose grouping of cyber activists supporting WikiLeaks launched a spate of online attacks on organisations seen as hostile to the site, and then after Assange's arrest in 2010, they started spreading the leaked documents far and wide online.

Another group of internet activists operating under the name "Anonymous" temporarily brought down websites of credit card giants MasterCard and Visa after they had stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks. Today, the site says it accepts donations in crytocurrencies, including bitcoin.