Plea for freedom: Assange is released


Lerato Khumalo

For many years, there has been a bitter legal tug-of-war over Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. He spent 1,901 days in London prison. Now, events are suddenly taking a turn. What was agreed upon?

Julian Assange has made a deal with the USA in the long-running dispute over his extradition and will be released. The founder of the whistleblower platform Wikileaks is expected to plead guilty to espionage in a US court and be sentenced to more than five years in prison. That corresponds to the length of time the whistleblower has already spent in a high-security prison in London.

In return, the 52-year-old will be spared further imprisonment in the USA, which had previously demanded his extradition. Instead, Assange will be released immediately and then travel to his homeland of Australia. This is according to US court documents. His wife confirmed the agreement. Her husband will plead guilty to one count in connection with the US Espionage Act, Stella Assange told the BBC.

It had been speculated for several months that such a deal would put an end to the Assange case. But the timing is still surprising. Unnoticed by the public, Assange was released from Belmarsh prison in London on Monday and taken to Stansted Airport. A video published by Wikileaks on Tuesday night shows the Australian boarding the jet wearing a shirt and jeans, with glasses pushed into his hair.

The USA accuses 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, however, see him 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.

At noon (local time), the plane in which Assange was believed to be on landed at an airport in Bangkok. It was expected that the plane would be refueled there and then fly on to the Northern Mariana Islands. According to Australian media, the plane was due to take off again at 9 p.m. (local time). The flight to the remote US territory in the Western Pacific will take at least eleven hours.

Assange is due to appear before a US court on the island of Saipan on Wednesday morning (local time). In a letter from the US Department of Justice to the judge in charge, Ramona Manglona, ​​it is stated that the location was chosen because Assange did not want to travel to the United States and the island group is close to Australia.

Assange is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and distribute classified documents at the court hearing, said the letter from top US official Matthew J. McRenzie. The Australian is then expected to travel to his home country.

Wikileaks announced on X that there had been lengthy negotiations with the US Department of Justice. 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 and their two children, “who so far only know their father behind bars”.

His wife was waiting for Assange in Australia. Stella Assange published a photo on X that was reportedly taken in Sydney and shows a video call with her husband from Stansted Airport.

Assange’s children have not yet heard about their father’s release. “I just told them that there was a huge surprise,” Stella Assange told the BBC in an interview from Sydney. She only said on the way to the airport in London that the family was flying to Australia to meet her grandparents.