Wikileaks founder Julian Assange leaves UK after being freed in US plea deal

25 June 2024, 05:22 | Updated: 25 June 2024, 09:04

Julian Assange Assange was released from Belmarsh Prison in London and boarded a private jet
Julian Assange Assange was released from Belmarsh Prison in London and boarded a private jet. Picture: Wikileaks/X

By Flaminia Luck

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has left the UK after agreeing a US plea deal that will see him plead guilty to criminal charges and go free.

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He was granted bail by the High Court in London and released from Belmarsh Prison on Monday following negotiations with US authorities over a plea deal, WikiLeaks has said.

In a statement posted on X, the official WikiLeaks account said Assange left the maximum security prison on Monday morning "after having spent 1901 days there".

The statement continued: "He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.

"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.

"This created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice, leading to a deal that has not yet been formally finalised."

Court papers filed by the US Justice Department show Assange is scheduled to appear in federal court to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defence information.

It followed the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Julian Assange founder of Wikileaks being interviewed at Hay Festival 2011
Julian Assange is expected to return to his home country of Australia . Picture: Alamy

He is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing, scheduled for Wednesday morning local time in the Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific.

An Australian government spokesperson said in a statement: "We are aware Australian citizen Mr Julian Assange has legal proceedings scheduled in the United States.

"Given those proceedings are ongoing, it is not appropriate to provide further comment.

"The Australian Government continues to provide consular assistance to Mr 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."

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The WikiLeaks statement also thanked "all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom".

It said: "After more than five years in a 2x3 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.

"WikiLeaks published ground-breaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions.

As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people's right to know.

"As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian's freedom is our freedom."

In a separate post on X, Mrs Assange said: "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."

Assange's mother, Christine Assange, told Australia's

Sky News that she is "grateful" her son's ordeal is "finally coming to an end".

She said: "This shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy. Many have used my son's situation to push their own agenda, so I am grateful to those unseen, hard-working people who put Julian's welfare first.

"The past 14 years have obviously taken a toll on me as a mother, so I wish to thank you in advance for respecting my privacy."

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray said Assange's family is "elated" at his release, telling Sky News: "It's been very taxing. It's no secret, being so many years in a maximum security jail.

"Why on earth somebody who is a journalist, who never harmed anybody in his life, is locked up in a jail with the worst terrorists in the UK ... it's very difficult for anybody to justify."

Assange had been locked in a lengthy legal battle in the UK over his extradition, which saw him enter and live in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2012 before his detention in Belmarsh prison.

In a January 2021 ruling, then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser said Assange 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.

Assange was due to bring his own challenge to the High Court in London in early July after he was recently given the go-ahead to challenge the original judge's dismissal of parts of his case.

Assange has been in custody at HMP Belmarsh for more than five years, fighting a lengthy legal battle against extradition to the United States.

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