News Brief

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, Known For Exposing US Military Secrets, Strikes Plea Deal To Secure Freedom

Kuldeep Negi

Jun 25, 2024, 08:56 AM | Updated 08:56 AM IST

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange  (File Photo) (Carl Court/Getty Images)
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (File Photo) (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has agreed to plead guilty in a U.S. court to revealing military secrets in exchange for his freedom, according to court documents released Monday night.

This agreement brings to a close a protracted legal battle that has spanned over a decade.

Assange, who had been in custody in Britain, will plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate national defence information. The plea agreement was filed in a court in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific ocean.

Early Tuesday morning, WikiLeaks announced that "Julian Assange is free" and confirmed that he had left the United Kingdom.

Assange is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning local time in the Northern Mariana Islands.

According to the terms of the plea deal, he is expected to be sentenced to 62 months in prison, with credit for the five years he has already served in Britain.

This means he could soon return to his native Australia.

Assange, now 52, has been a contentious figure since WikiLeaks began publishing hundreds of thousands of classified US documents in 2010.

While he has been hailed as a champion of free speech by supporters, detractors argue that he jeopardised US national security and intelligence sources by disclosing sensitive information.

The US indicted Assange in 2019 on 18 counts related to WikiLeaks' publication of national security documents.

His legal battles have included efforts to avoid extradition to the US, where authorities sought to prosecute him for revealing military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange's plea bargain marks the end of a nearly 14-year saga.

He was initially detained in the high-security Belmarsh prison in London in April 2019, following his arrest after spending seven years in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on now-dropped sexual assault charges.

Among the leaked materials that brought Assange to prominence was a video showing civilians, including two Reuters journalists, being killed by fire from a US helicopter gunship in Iraq in 2007.

The US government had accused Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, raising concerns among his supporters that he could face up to 175 years in prison.

Despite the British government approving his extradition in June 2022, Assange's legal team successfully secured the right to appeal the extradition decision in May.

The appeal was set to address whether Assange, as a foreigner on trial in the US, would be afforded the First Amendment protections of free speech. However, the plea deal has made this appeal unnecessary.

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Kuldeep is Senior Editor (Newsroom) at Swarajya. He tweets at @kaydnegi.

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