Julian Assange is a free man: Returning to Australia


Lerato Khumalo

The years-long legal tug-of-war surrounding Julian Assange ends with a deal – and a grand finale on a tropical island in the Pacific. The Australian is on his way home.

After a 14-year legal odyssey, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is a free man. A US court on the Mariana Island of Saipan – a US territory in the Western Pacific – approved a deal between the Australian and the American judiciary in connection with espionage allegations.

In return for a partial guilty plea, Assange is now free because of the prison sentence he has already served in Great Britain – and landed in the capital Canberra on a charter plane, as data from the “Flightradar24” platform showed.

Assange is the protagonist of a major espionage scandal. In 2006, he founded the whistleblower platform Wikileaks with the mission of supporting whistleblowers and bringing hidden information to light. From 2010 onwards, Wikileaks published secret material from US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The US subsequently accused Assange of stealing and publishing secret material, thereby endangering the lives of US informants.

The contrast between the small prison cell in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, where the whistleblower has spent the last five years, and the Pacific dream island of Saipan could not be greater. Saipan is considered a diving paradise and tourist magnet. After events had been unfolding rapidly since Monday, Assange found himself under a blue tropical sky and near palm-fringed beaches just two days later.

He flew from London Stansted to Bangkok on Monday in a chartered Bombardier plane and from there took off for the US territory on Tuesday evening. The flight number VJT199, which Assange’s wife Stella and Wikileaks had previously mentioned on social media, had been the connection most closely watched by users worldwide for days.

Hardly anyone can understand Assange’s state of mind better than his wife Stella, who wrote on X about his arrival on the island: “I look at the footage and think how overwhelming the sensory overload must be when he now walks through the crush of the press after years of sensory deprivation within the four walls of his maximum security cell in Belmarsh Prison.”

After the court’s decision, she rejoiced on social media: “Julian leaves the Saipan court as a free man. I can’t stop crying.” The 40-year-old lawyer married the Australian in 2022 while he was in prison and has two children with him.

For a long time, the American judiciary wanted to put Assange on trial for espionage charges: he would have faced up to 175 years in prison in the USA. Instead, he negotiated a deal with the US authorities and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally obtain and distribute secret documents. Assange did not want to go to the USA to sign off on the deal – the mistrust was probably too great. Instead, he flew to the tranquil Mariana Islands, which are part of the USA but are much closer to his Australian homeland.

Judge Ramona Manglona determined this morning (local time) that the sentence would be the same as the time the internet activist had already served in prison in London. This means that he is now officially free. The US Department of Justice later confirmed in a statement that the case was officially closed. But there was great fear that something could have gone wrong at the last minute. According to observers, Assange was very emotional and close to tears after the decision.

“It looks like this case will end with me here in Saipan,” British media quoted Judge Manglona as saying. It was apparently an early birthday present, she added: “I heard it’s your birthday next week. I hope you start your new life in a positive way.” Assange will turn 53 next Wednesday (July 3).