WikiLeaks' Julian Assange Set to Be Freed after Pleading Guilty to US Espionage Charge

This screen shot courtesy of Wikileaks X page shows Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London on June 24, 2024. (Photo by WikiLeaks / AFP)
This screen shot courtesy of Wikileaks X page shows Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London on June 24, 2024. (Photo by WikiLeaks / AFP)
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WikiLeaks' Julian Assange Set to Be Freed after Pleading Guilty to US Espionage Charge

This screen shot courtesy of Wikileaks X page shows Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London on June 24, 2024. (Photo by WikiLeaks / AFP)
This screen shot courtesy of Wikileaks X page shows Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London on June 24, 2024. (Photo by WikiLeaks / AFP)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is due to plead guilty on Wednesday to violating US espionage law, in a deal that will end his imprisonment in Britain and allow him to return home to Australia, ending a 14-year legal odyssey.
Assange, 52, has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defense documents, according to filings in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.
The deal marks the end of a legal saga in which Assange spent years in a British high-security jail and in the Ecuadorean embassy in London and fought allegations of sex crimes in Sweden, while battling extradition to the US, where he faced 18 criminal charges, Reuters said.
Viewed as a villain by the US government for potentially putting classified government sources at risk, he has been hailed as a hero by free press advocates for exposing wrongdoing and alleged war crimes.
On Wednesday, he is due to be sentenced to 62 months of time already served at a hearing in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, at 9 a.m. local time (2300 GMT Tuesday). The US territory in the Pacific was chosen due to Assange's opposition to traveling to the mainland US and for its proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.
Assange left Belmarsh prison in the UK on Monday before being bailed by the UK High Court and boarding a flight that afternoon, Wikileaks said in a statement posted on social media platform X.
"This is the result of a global campaign that spanned grass-roots organizers, press freedom campaigners, legislators and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations," the statement said.
A video posted on X by Wikileaks showed Assange dressed in a blue shirt and jeans signing a document before boarding a private jet with the markings of charter firm VistaJet.
The only VistaJet plane that left Stansted on Monday afternoon landed in Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon, en-route to Saipan, according to FlightRadar24 data.
Assange will return to Australia after the hearing, the Wikileaks statement said.
"Julian is free!!!!" his wife, Stella Assange, said in a post on X.
"Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU - yes YOU, who have all mobilized for years and years to make this come true."
A spokesperson for Assange in Australia declined to comment on his flight plans. VistaJet did not respond to a request for comment.
The Australian government, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has been pressing for Assange's release but declined to comment on the legal proceedings as they were ongoing.
"Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange (and) his activities, the case has dragged on for too long," Albanese said in the country's parliament.
"There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia."
A lawyer for Assange did not respond to a request for comment.
HISTORIC CHARGES
WikiLeaks in 2010 released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history - along with swaths of diplomatic cables.
Assange was indicted during former President Donald Trump's administration over WikiLeaks' mass release of secret US documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst who was also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.
The trove of more than 700,000 documents included diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts such as a 2007 video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff. That video was released in 2010.
The charges against Assange sparked outrage among his many global supporters who have long argued that Assange as the publisher of Wikileaks should not face charges typically used against federal government employees who steal or leak information.
Many press freedom advocates have argued that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.
"While we welcome the end of his detention, the US’s pursuit of Assange has set a harmful legal precedent by opening the way for journalists to be tried under the Espionage Act if they receive classified material from whistleblowers," said Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
LONG ODYSSEY
Assange was first arrested in Britain in 2010 on a European arrest warrant after Swedish authorities said they wanted to question him over sex-crime allegations that were later dropped. He fled to Ecuador's embassy, where he remained for seven years, to avoid extradition to Sweden.
He was dragged out of the embassy in 2019 and jailed for skipping bail. He has been in London's Belmarsh top security jail ever since, from where he has for almost five years been fighting extradition to the United States.
Those five years of confinement are similar to the sentence imposed on Reality Winner, an Air Force veteran and former intelligence contractor, who was sentenced to 63 months after she removed classified materials and mailed them to a news outlet.
Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years, but President Barack Obama reduced the term to seven years, saying her sentence was disproportionate to those received by other leakers.
While in Belmarsh Assange married his partner Stella with whom he had two children while he was stuck in the Ecuadorean embassy.



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.