Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Is Set Free, Slated To Make Plea Deal in US Court

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jun 25, 2024

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, was set free from a five-year stay in a British prison this week. This release follows an earlier request from the Australian parliament this year that called on both the US and the UK to allow Assange to return home to his native country.

It’s unclear what the exact details were that led to his release, but as part of the release, Assange has agreed to plead guilty in a US court for violating the Espionage Act.

Plea Deal

The story of Assange’s plea deal is still developing, and the guilty plea is still yet to be finalized this week with the US government.

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CBS News reported that the Justice Department has recommended a prison sentence of 62 months. However, the Justice Department will reportedly view Assange’s sentence as time served because of the five years he spent in a UK prison.

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Who is Julian Assange?

Julian Assange is an Australian national who has been fighting a years-long battle to avoid extradition to the US following an indictment by a grand jury in 2019 that found that he had illegally obtained and disseminated classified United States national defense information. Prosecutors accused Assange of recruiting individuals to “hack into computers and/or illegally obtain and disclose classified information.”

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A photograph of Julian Assange from 2014.

Source: David G Silvers/Wikimedia

Using his site “WikiLeaks,” Assange distributed information about US actions in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that drew worldwide attention and outrage.

Espionage Act

Assange is due to plead guilty to one charge under the Espionage Act for conspiring to unlawfully obtain classified information. It is expected that he will not face any other charges and will presumably be able to then return to his home country of Australia as a free man.

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Although he has agreed to a guilty plea by the US government, a judge must still approve the plea before it can become official.

Parliament Request

The details are murky around the suddenness of Assange’s freedom after so many years, but it does follow a vote by the Australian Parliament in February that demanded both the UK and the US allow Assange to travel home.

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A look at the interior of the Australian Parliment.

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The vote passed overwhelmingly with Australian MP Andrew Wilki declaring it “an unprecedented show of political support for Mr Assange by the Australian parliament”.

Supportive of the Plea Deal

After news broke of Assange’s release and intent to take a plea deal, Australian leaders voiced support for their countryman.

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“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There’s nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

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Don’t Judge Him

Australian Labour Party MP Julian Hill asked the public not to judge Assange for taking a guilty plea, which may be seen as an admission that he did something wrong in his actions.

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“No one should judge Julian for accepting a deal to get the hell out of there and come home. His health is fragile,” Hill said. “Whatever you think of Assange he is an Australian and enough is enough.”

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Wikileaks Celebrates

On the social media platform X, the official account for WikiLeaks celebrated the release of Assange and documented his boarding an airplane, showing him outside of confinement for the first time in years.

An X post showing the departure of Julian Assange.

Soruce: Wikileaks/X

“Julian Assange boards flight at London Stansted Airport at 5PM (BST) Monday June 24th. This is for everyone who worked for his freedom: thank you,” said Wikileaks on X.

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Beloved Journalist

Assange as a figure has been politically divisive among Americans, but many on social media were celebrating his release.

Protestors hold up signs demanding that Assange is freed from prison.

Source: Alisdare Hickson/Wikimedia

“Omg I can’t believe this thank you For sharing, Just watching him out in the open, Great to see it. Continue the support.  The only journalist I’ve ever believed,” said one X user. “I am in tears…thank god,” said X user Owen Hughes.

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Deserved Sentence

While many were happy to see him released, others asserted that Assange deserved the time in prison for what he did.

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“Oh, he absolutely deserved to be in prison. Don’t forget that he didn’t just receive and publish classified information, he actively helped Manning gain access to computer systems they were not authorized to access. This included cracking passwords to use accounts with more access. This is way, way over the line. Journalists publishing information is one thing, but helping someone commit espionage to get it is another thing entirely,” said a Reddit user.

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Credit for Biden

Some politically-minded observers are keen to assign President Joe Biden the credit for Assange’s release, seeking to contrast Biden with the Republicans who previously maligned Assange for the leaks.

President Joe Biden, dressed in a blue suit, is seated at his desk in the Oval Office, signing a document with a pen

Source: POTUS/X

However, while Biden may get the credit he has not been a supporter of Assange. In 2010, then-vice-president Biden unleashed strong criticism, calling Assange a “hi-tech terrorist.” President Obama at the time took a hard-line and aggressive stance on leakers and oversaw the filing of criminal charges against Assange.

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Biden’s Views

According to reports, Biden had been facing increased pressure to end the United States’ legal pursuit of Assange. In April, Biden told reporters “We’re considering it,” in response to the request from Australia’s parliament.

A close-up image capturing former President Barack Obama on the left, partially in view and smiling, with President Joe Biden on the right

Source: Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons

“Him even considering it is an absolutely fascinating change of tone,” said London School of Economics Professor Charlie Beckett at the time.

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