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‘Julian Assange is free’: WikiLeaks founder leaves UK in deal with US



‘Julian Assange is free’: WikiLeaks founder leaves UK in deal with US

“Julian Assange is free,” WikiLeaks said in a statement posted on social media platform X. Assange left Belmarsh prison in the UK on Monday before being bailed by the UK High Court and boarding a flight that afternoon from London Stansted Airport.

“This is the result of a global campaign that spanned grass-roots organisers, press freedom campaigners, legislators and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations,” the WikiLeaks 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 charter plane flew Assange from London to Bangkok, where it stopped to refuel on Tuesday.

Assange will return to Australia after the hearing, the WikiLeaks statement added, referring to the hearing in Saipan.

“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 mobilised for years and years to make this come true.”

Julian Assange’s mother said she was “grateful that my son’s ordeal is finally coming to an end”.

“This shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy,” Christine Assange said in a statement carried by public broadcaster ABC and other media.

Julian Assange on Monday. Photo: @wikileaks via X

His father, John Shipton, said he was a “little anxious to see whether all that’s in the news is sincere” after learning of the dramatic developments through US media.

“The appearance is that Julian will be able to enjoy ordinary life with his family and his wife Stella, that is my understanding,” he said in an interview with ABC radio.

The Australian government, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has been pressing for Assange’s release.

“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 on Tuesday.

“There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.”

A lawyer for Assange did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Julian Assange at London Stansted Airport. Photo: @wikileaks via X

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 swathes of diplomatic cables.

Assange was indicted during former US 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.

“A plea deal would avert the worst-case scenario for press freedom, but this deal contemplates that Assange will have served five years in prison for activities that journalists engage in every day,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of free speech organisation Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

Julian Assange’s charter flight on the tarmac at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok. Photo: AFP

“It will cast a long shadow over the most important kinds of journalism, not just in this country but around the world.”

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, a US 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.

While in Belmarsh Assange married his partner Stella with whom he had two children while he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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