Julian Assange will not be extradited to the US after reaching plea deal

Julian Assange
Julian Assange had been in prison since he was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2019 and arrested by British police, after Ecuador withdrew his asylum status. (Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

US authorities have agreed to drop their demand for Julian Assange to be extradited from the UK after reaching a plea deal with the WikiLeaks founder.

In return for pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information, Assange will be sentenced to time served, 62 months – the time he has already spent in a British prison, according to court documents.

Once the guilty plea is accepted by a judge, the 52-year-old will be free to return to Australia, the country of his birth.

Read more: Timeline of Assange’s 13-year legal battle for freedom

American prosecutors had alleged that Assange put lives at risk when he helped former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks put online in 2010.

He has been locked in a legal battle in the UK over his extradition, which included him entering the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2012 prior to his detention in Belmarsh prison – where he has been since May 2019.

Julian Assange at Stansted Airport Pic: Wikileaks
Assange at the airport after leaving prison. (Image: WikiLeaks)

 

‘Julian is free!’

In a post on X, WikiLeaks said Assange left Belmarsh on Monday morning after being granted bail by the High Court. By the afternoon he was at Stansted Airport where he boarded a plane and left the UK.

“After more than five years in a 2×3 metre cell, isolated 23 hours a day, he will soon reunite with his wife Stella Assange, and their children, who have only known their father from behind bars,” the organisation said.

Mrs Assange also took to social media, sharing a video montage of her husband in a car and then boarding a plane.

She wrote: “Julian is free!!!!

“Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU – yes YOU, who have all mobilised for years and years to make this come true. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.”

Mrs Assange also shared an image on X of her husband video-calling her from Stansted airport on Monday.

Stella Assange speaking in London on 26 March. Pic: PA
Stella Assange speaking in London on 26 March. (Image: PA)

 

Assange’s plea and sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday morning, local time (Tuesday evening UK time) on Saipan, one of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The hearing is taking place in the US Commonwealth territory because of Assange’s opposition to travelling to one of the 50 US states and the court’s proximity to Australia.

Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton told Sky News this morning that the Wikileaks founder is “overwhelmed to be out of prison”.

Mr Shipton added: “He’s been on a plane for a very long time now… I’ve been speaking to him this week and just going through all the details with him.

“He’s been very anxious, very excited, and he’s looking forward to spending time with his family and being free, being able to have the sun shining on his face, see the birds, go for a swim in the ocean back in Australia.

“He’s very much looking forward to that.”

Craig Murray, a friend of Assange, told Sky News the news was “absolutely wonderful”.

He said: “The whole family is totally elated that we have finally got an end to this terrible saga.”

Mr Murray said the entire ordeal has been “very taxing” on Assange with his imprisonment taking a toll on both his physical and mental health.

He added: “We are lucky that he is a very resilient man and he will recover and we will get our Julian fully back.”

More than a decade-long fight

Assange has been fighting extradition to the US for more than a decade.

Analysis: Plea deal marks end of a transatlantic tug of war

WHY HAS THE US DROPPED THE EXTRADITION DEMAND?

The US formally asked the UK to extradite Julian Assange to face charges that he conspired to hack government computers and violated an espionage law in 2019.

After five years, this request has been dropped, with the US having come to a plea deal with the WikiLeaks founder – but why now?

Former CIA chief of staff, Larry Pfeiffer, says it is not unusual for these sorts of espionage cases to be adjudicated through plea deals.

“In these sorts of cases justice may not be the only issue that needs to be dealt with,” he told Sky News.

Mr Pfeiffer said if the case ever went to trial it would have risked “sources and methods” that the US military and government use being exposed.

“[This case] also served as a thorn in UK-US relations and US-Australian relations,” he added.

“It was creating issues surrounding what we all love, which is liberty and freedom of the case. By resolving this we resolved some of those troublesome issues.”

Mr Pfeiffer says overall he thinks the plea deal is a “win, win”.

 

In a January 2021 ruling, then district judge Vanessa Baraitser said he should not be sent to the US, citing a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide, while ruling against him on all other issues.

Later that year, US authorities won a High Court bid to overturn this block, paving the way towards Assange’s extradition.

In June 2022, the UK government approved the extradition of Assange to the US, with then home secretary Priti Patel having signed the extradition order.

In February of this year, he made one final attempt under UK law to avoid being sent to the US.

In March, Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Johnson dismissed most of Assange’s legal arguments – but said unless assurances were given by the US, he would be able to bring an appeal on three grounds.

These assurances were that Assange would be protected by and allowed to rely on the First Amendment – which protects freedom of speech in the US – that he would not be “prejudiced at trial” due to his nationality, and that the death penalty would not be imposed.

Three months later, in May, two High Court judges ruled that he would be allowed to appeal against being extradited, would not face the death penalty and that he could rely on the First Amendment if he faced a trial for spying.

The Australian government said it continues to provide consular assistance to Assange.

“Prime Minister Albanese has been clear – Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration,” a spokesperson said.

Source:  Sky News news.sky.com

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