Julian Assange to plead guilty but is going home after long extradition fight


Julian Assange in an airplane seat, looking out the window.
Enlarge / Julian Assange in an airplane in a photo posted by WikiLeaks on June 25, 2024.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal charge, ending a long extradition battle with the United States government. Assange will reportedly avoid further jail time and be allowed to return to his home country of Australia.

Assange won’t have to travel to the continental United States. He is scheduled to plead guilty tomorrow in US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the western Pacific Ocean.

In a court filing in Saipan, the US government said:

We appreciate the Court accommodating these plea and sentencing proceedings on a single day at the joint request of the parties, in light of the defendant’s opposition to traveling to the continental United States to enter his guilty plea and the proximity of this federal US District Court to the defendant’s country of citizenship, Australia, to which we expect he will return at the conclusion of the proceedings.

During the Wednesday hearing, “we anticipate that the defendant will plead guilty to the charge in the Information of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified information relating to the national defense of the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 793(g), and be sentenced by the Court for that offense,” the US said.

Assange on a plane

Assange was flying to Saipan today, according to his wife, Stella Assange. “Saipan is a remote US overseas territory. He will be entering the United States. Julian won’t be safe until he lands in Australia,” she wrote.

Stella Assange wrote in an earlier post that “Julian is free!!!!” and thanked his supporters. She also announced a fundraising campaign to cover $520,000 “which he is obligated to pay back to the Australian government,” saying that he “was not permitted to fly commercial airlines or routes to Saipan and onward to Australia.”

The US unsealed a 2018 indictment against Assange in 2019, right after British police arrested him on behalf of US authorities. Assange went into hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012, but the Ecuadorian government revoked his asylum after seven years.

The New York Times reported that Assange “is expected to be sentenced to about five years, the equivalent of the time he has already served in Britain.” The NYT cited a law enforcement official who is familiar with the terms of the deal.

Failed extradition attempts

In 2010, Assange’s WikiLeaks released classified documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. As Bloomberg wrote yesterday, “Assange was charged with encouraging and assisting Manning in obtaining around 750,000 classified or sensitive documents, one of the largest leaks of state secrets in US history. The original charges—17 related to espionage and one to computer misuse—carried a maximum penalty of 175 years in prison if he was found guilty on all counts in the US, although sentences for federal crimes are typically less than that.”

In 2021, a British judge rejected the US government’s request to extradite Assange, saying that he would be at greater risk of suicide in the American prison system. The US won an appeal of that ruling but legal proceedings continued. In March 2024, Assange was granted another reprieve by the High Court in London.

Negotiations toward a plea agreement heated up in recent months after US President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from the Australian government to strike a deal that would allow Assange to return home,” Bloomberg wrote.

Stella Assange said she will seek a pardon for her husband after his guilty plea. “The fact that there is a guilty plea under the Espionage Act in relation to obtaining and disclosing national defense information is obviously a very serious concern for journalists and national security journalists in general,” she said, according to Reuters.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote, “The Australian Government has consistently said that Mr. Assange’s case has dragged on for too long and that there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration. We want him brought home to Australia.”



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