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Julian Assange will be freed after striking plea deal with US authorities

Yoopya with The Conversation

Julian Assange has reached a deal with the United States Department of Justice to allow him to return to Australia after pleading guilty to violating American espionage law.

Assange, 52, was released from London’s Belmarsh Prison, where he has spent more than five years and later was seen at a London airport boarding a private plane. He left around 5pm on Monday London time. Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Stephen Smith, is on the plane.

According to the deal, he will plead guilty to a charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defence information in a US federal court in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Pacific.

He is expected to return to Australia after the court appearance on Wednesday morning.

The dramatic breakthrough follows years of cross-party campaigning by Australian politicians, multiple representations by the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, ministers and backbenchers, and agitation by a wide group of supporters and especially his family.

A federal government spokesman said on Tuesday morning: “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.”

In April, US President Joe Biden gave a hint that progress was being made on Assange’s case. Asked if he would consider a request from Australia to drop the prosecution, he answered, “We’re considering it”.

Assange, who previously spent years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London while he fought extradition to the US, has suffered declining health recently.

Assange was indicted in the US for the WikiLeaks release of a trove of US classified material. This had come from a former American intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning.

In the US, the deal has brought public criticism from Mike Pence, former US vice president to Donald Trump. Pence posted, “Julian Assange endangered the lives of our troops in a time of war and should have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Biden administration’s plea deal with Assange is a miscarriage of justice and dishonors the service and sacrifice of the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families.”

Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham said in a statement, “We have consistently said that the US and UK justice systems should be respected. We welcome the fact that Mr Assange’s decision to plead guilty will bring this long running saga to an end.”

Assange’s mother, Christine Ann Hawkins, in a statement provided to Sky News through an advocate, said: “I am grateful that my son’s ordeal is finally coming to an end. This shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy.”

His wife Stella, who married Assange while he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, posted, “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 father, John Shipton, told the ABC, “It looks as though Julian will be free to come back to Australia”.


Michelle Grattan | Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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Julian Assange will be freed after striking plea deal with US authorities

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