WikiLeaks founder released after spending five years in prison

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The founder of WikiLeaks, has finally left the United Kingdom after striking a deal with US authorities that will result in his release. The 52-year-old Assange had been detained in a British prison for the past five years, contesting extradition to the US where he faced charges related to conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information. The legal saga surrounding Assange stems from WikiLeaks’ publication of classified US military records and diplomatic cables, which the US government argued endangered lives, particularly regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

According to CBS, Assange will not face custody in the US and will be credited for the time served in UK incarceration. He is expected to return to Australia, as announced by the Justice Department. On the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), WikiLeaks confirmed Assange’s departure from Belmarsh prison after spending 1,901 days in confinement. He was released at Stansted airport and subsequently boarded a flight departing the UK, as depicted in videos shared online by WikiLeaks. The authenticity of these videos has not been independently verified by the BBC.

Stella Assange, his wife, expressed gratitude on Twitter to supporters who advocated for his release over the years. The agreement stipulates that Assange will plead guilty to one charge, which is set to be finalized in a court in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday, June 26. These remote US commonwealth islands are much closer to Australia than federal courts in Hawaii or the continental US.

Australia’s government, represented by a spokesperson quoted by Agence France-Presse, acknowledged that the case had endured for an extended period. Richard Miller, Assange’s attorney, and his US-based lawyer declined to comment on the matter.

Assange and his legal team have consistently argued that the charges against him are politically motivated. In April, US President Joe Biden disclosed that he was considering Australia’s request to drop the prosecution against Assange. Following a legal victory in May, the UK High Court permitted Assange to mount a fresh appeal against extradition to the US. This ruling allowed him to challenge US assurances regarding the conduct of his potential trial and concerns over potential infringements of his right to free speech.

Stella Assange, speaking to reporters and supporters after the court decision, urged the Biden administration to distance itself from what she termed a “shameful prosecution.”

Initially, US prosecutors sought to try Assange on 18 charges, mostly under the Espionage Act, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential US military documents and diplomatic communications concerning the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Founded in 2006, WikiLeaks claims to have published over 10 million documents, a revelation later described by the US government as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

WikiLeaks gained international attention in 2010 when it released a video from a US military helicopter showing the killing of Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in Baghdad. Chelsea Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst and one of Assange’s key collaborators, was initially sentenced to 35 years in prison. However, her sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama in 2017.

Assange also faced separate charges of rape and sexual assault in Sweden, allegations he denied. Fearing extradition to the US, Assange sought asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy for seven years. The Swedish authorities dropped the case in 2019, citing the expiration of the statute of limitations, but he was subsequently taken into custody by UK authorities for failing to surrender to the courts for extradition to Sweden.

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