Julian Assange to be freed after pleading guilty to US espionage charge

Photo: Reuters

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to plead guilty on Wednesday to violating U.S. espionage law, in a deal that will end his imprisonment in Britain and allow him to return to Australia, concluding a 14-year legal saga.

Assange, 52, has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. national defense documents, according to filings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

The deal concludes a protracted legal ordeal during which Assange spent years in a British high-security jail and the Ecuadorean embassy in London, fought allegations of sex crimes in Sweden, and battled extradition to the U.S., where he faced 18 criminal charges. Viewed as a villain by the U.S. government for potentially endangering classified sources, Assange has been hailed as a hero by free press advocates for exposing wrongdoing and alleged war crimes.

On Wednesday, Assange is scheduled 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 U.S. territory in the Pacific was chosen due to Assange’s opposition to traveling to the mainland U.S. 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 grassroots 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. According to FlightRadar24 data, the only VistaJet plane that left Stansted on Monday afternoon landed in Bangkok on Tuesday afternoon, en route to Saipan.

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. “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.