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Julian Assange Freed After Five Years in British Prison Following Plea Deal

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has been released from a British prison after spending five years behind bars.

The release follows a plea deal with US authorities, allowing Assange to plead guilty to criminal charges without serving additional time in US custody.

Assange, 52, faced charges of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information. The US government argued that the Wikileaks disclosures, which included sensitive information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, endangered lives.

Since his arrest, Assange had been fighting extradition to the US from the UK. His plea deal credits the time he spent in British custody, enabling his release without further imprisonment in the US. According to CBS, Assange has already departed the UK and returned to Australia.

Wikileaks confirmed Assange’s release from Belmarsh prison after 1,901 days in a small cell. He was driven to Stansted airport and boarded a plane back to Australia. A video shared by Wikileaks purportedly shows Assange in casual attire being transported to the airport. The BBC has not independently verified this video.

Assange’s wife, Stella, expressed gratitude on X (formerly Twitter) to the supporters who campaigned for his release. The plea deal, which involves Assange pleading guilty to one charge, is set to be finalized in a court in the Northern Mariana Islands on June 26. This remote US commonwealth in the Pacific is closer to Australia than US federal courts in Hawaii or the mainland.

An Australian government spokesperson told Agence France-Presse that the case had “dragged on for too long.” Assange’s attorney, Richard Miller, and his US-based lawyer declined to comment.

Assange and his legal team have long contended that the charges against him were politically motivated. In April, US President Joe Biden said he was considering Australia’s request to drop the prosecution against Assange. In May, the UK High Court ruled that Assange could appeal his extradition to the US, allowing him to challenge the assurances about his trial and free speech rights.

Initially, US prosecutors sought to try Assange on 18 counts under the Espionage Act for releasing confidential US military and diplomatic records. Wikileaks, founded by Assange in 2006, has published over 10 million documents, which the US government called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in history.”

In 2010, Wikileaks released a video showing a US military helicopter killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in Baghdad. One of Assange’s prominent collaborators, Chelsea Manning, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking information but had her sentence commuted by President Obama in 2017.

Assange also faced allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden, which he denied. He sought asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy for seven years, fearing extradition to the US. The Swedish case was dropped in 2019 due to the passage of time, but Assange was later arrested in the UK for failing to surrender to the courts.

During his imprisonment, Assange suffered from health issues, including a small stroke in 2021. Despite his legal and health struggles, his release marks the end of a significant chapter in his tumultuous life.

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