WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s plane leaves Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom : The Tribune India

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s plane leaves Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom

He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defence information

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s plane leaves Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a document at a location given as London, Britain, in this still image from video released on June 25, 2024. Reuters



AP

Bangkok, June 25 

A plane with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange departed Bangkok after refuelling Tuesday and he is on the way to Saipan to enter a plea deal with the US government that will free him and resolve the legal case over the publication of a trove of classified documents.

The chartered flight from London that Assange’s wife, Stella, confirmed was carrying her husband left Don Mueang International Airport, according to the Flightradar24 plane tracking app. Airport officials said the plane was scheduled to continue on to Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Pacific, where Assange is expected to appear in court on Wednesday.

He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defence information, according to the US Justice Department in a letter filed in court.

Assange is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing. The hearing is taking place in Saipan because of Assange’s opposition to travelling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

British judicial officials confirmed that Assange left the UK on Monday evening after being granted bail at a secret hearing last week. 

 “Thirteen-and-a-half years and two extradition requests after he was first arrested, Julian Assange left the UK yesterday, following a bail hearing last Thursday, held in private at his request,” said Stephen Parkinson, the chief prosecutor for England and Wales.

The plea deal brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and to the US government’s yearlong pursuit of a publisher whose hugely popular secret-sharing website made him a cause célèbre among many press freedom advocates who said he acted as a journalist to expose US military wrongdoing. US prosecutors, in contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke the law and put the country’s national security at risk.

Stella Assange said that it had been “touch and go” over the past 72 hours whether the deal would go ahead but she felt “elated” at the news. A lawyer who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022, she said details of the agreement would be made public once the judge had signed off on it.

“He will be a free man once it is signed off by a judge,” she said, adding that she still didn’t think it was real.

She posted on X that Assange will owe $520,000 to the Australian government for the charter flight, and asked for donations to help pay for it. 

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said the deal for Assange came about after the growing involvement of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

“This is the result of a long, long process which has been going on for some time. It has been a tough battle, but the focus now is on Julian being reunited with his family,” said Hrafnsson.

In a statement posted on X, WikiLeaks said Assange boarded a plane after leaving the high-security London prison where he has spent the last five years. WikiLeaks applauded the announcement of the deal, saying it was grateful for “all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom.”  

Albanese told Parliament that an Australian envoy had flown with Assange from London. 

“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long,” Albanese said. “There’s nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.” The deal ensures that Assange will admit guilt while also sparing him additional prison time. He is expected to be sentenced to the five years he has already spent in the British prison while fighting extradition to the US to face charges, a process that has played out in a series of hearings in London. 

Last month, he won the right to appeal an extradition order after his lawyers argued that the US government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain.

Assange has been heralded by many around the world as a hero who brought to light military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

But his reputation was also tarnished by the rape allegations, which he has denied. 


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