WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange expected to plead guilty to US espionage charge, document says

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is expected to plead guilty this week to violating US espionage law, in a deal that could end his imprisonment in Britain and allow him to return home to Australia, US prosecutors said.

US prosecutors said in court papers that Assange, 52, has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents, according to filings in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

Assange is expected to be sentenced at a hearing on the island of Saipan at 9am local time on Wednesday. He is likely to be credited for the time he has already served and face no new prison time.



Family and supporters of Julian Assange rally for his release in Sydney

Family and supporters of Julian Assange rally for his release in Sydney

WikiLeaks in 2010 released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history – along with swathes of diplomatic cables.

Assange was indicted during former US president Donald Trump’s administration over WikiLeaks’ mass release of secret US documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst who was also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

The trove of more than 700,000 documents included diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts such as a 2007 video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff. That video was released in 2010.

The charges against Assange sparked outrage among his many global supporters who have long argued that Assange as the publisher of Wikileaks should not face charges typically used against federal government employees who steal or leak information.

Many press freedom advocates have argued that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.

A supporter of Assange holds a placard outside The Royal Courts of Justice in central London in March. Photo: AFP

Assange was first arrested in Britain in 2010 on a European arrest warrant after Swedish authorities said they wanted to question him over sex-crime allegations that were later dropped.

He fled to Ecuador’s embassy, where he remained for seven years, to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was dragged out of the embassy in 2019 and jailed for skipping bail. He has been in London’s Belmarsh top security jail ever since, from where he has for almost five years been fighting extradition to the United States.

While in Belmarsh he married his partner Stella with whom he had two children while he was holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy.



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