Assange on the way to freedom? Turning point in the legal drama


Lerato Khumalo

A bitter legal tug-of-war has been going on for many years over Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Now, events are suddenly escalating.

There has been a surprising turn in the years-long legal wrangling surrounding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. According to Wikileaks, after five years in prison in London, Assange was released from prison – unnoticed by the public – and left the UK. The portal published a video overnight that is said to show the 52-year-old boarding a plane at London’s Stansted Airport.

There was initially no official confirmation from the British authorities. The background to this is a legal deal between Assange and the US judiciary, which had previously insisted on the Australian’s extradition to the United States – but now wants to refrain from doing so.

Assange negotiated an agreement with the US Department of Justice whereby he will partially plead guilty in the espionage scandal and in return be spared further imprisonment in the US, according to court documents. However, a court must still approve the agreement. Assange is scheduled to appear in court in a remote US territory this Wednesday (local time): the Mariana Islands.

The archipelago is located in the Western Pacific, north of Assange’s homeland of Australia, and is under US jurisdiction. A letter from the US Department of Justice states that the location was chosen because Assange did not want to travel to the United States and the archipelago is close to Australia.

It is expected that Assange will plead guilty at the court hearing to conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and distribute secret documents. He will then travel to Australia. According to US media, Assange will be sentenced to a good five years in prison – which he has already served in Great Britain. He would therefore soon be a free man.

The USA had previously demanded Assange’s extradition. They accuse him of stealing and publishing secret material from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with whistleblower Chelsea Manning, thereby endangering the lives of US informants. Assange’s supporters, on the other hand, believe that he is in the sights of the Washington judiciary for exposing US war crimes. If convicted without an agreement with the prosecution, Assange could face up to 175 years in prison for espionage.

Wikileaks wrote on X that there had been long negotiations with the US Department of Justice. The agreement reached has not yet been finalized. After more than five years “in a two by three meter cell in which he was isolated for 23 hours a day,” Assange will soon be reunited with his wife Stella Assange and their two children, “who so far only know their father behind bars.”

Assange began his sentence in the high-security Belmarsh prison in London about five years ago. Before his arrest in April 2019, he had evaded law enforcement authorities for seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

They initially targeted him because of rape allegations in Sweden. However, these charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence. Human rights organizations, journalists’ associations, artists and politicians have long been calling for Assange’s immediate release.

The Australian government had also campaigned for the release of its citizen. US President Joe Biden recently raised some hope in this direction. When asked whether the US would consider an Australian request to drop the prosecution against Assange, he said: “We are considering it.” So while there were signs of a possible political solution, the timing of it was surprising.

Assange recently filed an appeal in the UK against his extradition to the USA. The case was actually supposed to be heard in July by the High Court in London. The High Court partially granted Assange’s request in May, thus preventing the 52-year-old from being immediately extradited to the USA.

Stella Assange called on supporters to help her husband after his release. “We intend to set up an emergency fund for Julian’s health and recovery,” she said in a video clip that was published on YouTube overnight. Assange’s team had recently repeatedly warned that the Wikileaks founder’s health was poor. He therefore did not attend court hearings in person.