World/Foreign News

Julian Assange signs plea deal with US, returns home as free man to Australia

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has landed back home in Australia, a free man for the first time in 12 years, after a US judge signed off on his unexpected plea deal on Wednesday morning.

Cheers erupted from supporters gathered at Canberra Airport in the Australian capital as Assange disembarked the aircraft. He waved to the crowds as he walked across the tarmac.

As he approached the terminal, his wife Stella emerged with a broad smile on her face. Assange pulled her into hug, lifting her off the floor before the pair kissed.

“Julian wanted me to sincerely thank everyone. He wanted to be here. But you have to understand what he’s been through. He needs time, he needs to recuperate and this is a process,” she said at a press conference after her husband’s arrival.

With tears in her eyes, Stella took several brief pauses in an apparent bid to gather her emotions as she spoke to reporters. “I ask you please, to give us space, to give us privacy, to find our place, to let our family be a family before he can speak again at a time of his choosing,” she added.

A photo of Julian Assange shared by Wikileaks on X, with a caption that reads, ‘Approaching Bangkok airport for layover. Moving closer to freedom.’

Earlier Wednesday, Assange walked out of the courtroom in Saipan, on the Northern Mariana Islands, a remote US Pacific territory, raising one hand to a gaggle of the world’s press before departing by car for the airport to journey on to Australia.

Speaking outside the court, Assange’s US lawyer Barry Pollack said he had “suffered tremendously in his fight for free speech and freedom of the press.”

“The prosecution of Julian Assange is unprecedented in the 100 years of the Espionage Act,” Pollack told reporters. “Mr. Assange revealed truthful, newsworthy information … We firmly believe that Mr. Assange never should have been charged under the Espionage Act and engaged in (an) exercise that journalists engage in every day.”

In a stunning turn of events, the 52-year-old Australian was released from a high-security prison in London on Monday afternoon and had already boarded a private jet to leave the United Kingdom before the world even knew of his agreement with the US government.

A private jet carrying WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives in Canberra, Australia on Wednesday.
A private jet carrying WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives in Canberra, Australia on Wednesday. Edgar Su/Reuters
He appeared in a US courtroom on the Northern Mariana Islands to formalize the agreement, officially pleading guilty to conspiring unlawfully to obtain and disseminate classified information over his alleged role in one of the largest breaches of classified material in US military history.

“I am, in fact, guilty of the charge,” Assange told the court in Saipan.

Assange – who has long held a deep mistrust of the US, even going so far as accusing it of allegedly plotting his assassination – was hesitant about stepping foot in the continental US, and so prosecutors asked for all proceedings to take place in a day in a US federal court based in Saipan, the largest island and capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, which are located around 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) west of Hawaii.

Justice Department prosecutors also said the court on the islands made logistical sense as it is closer to Australia, where Assange will ultimately travel to following the conclusion of his legal battle.

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Ambassador to Washington and former prime minister who helped facilitate negotiations with the US, watched proceedings in the courtroom.


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