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Friday, July 19, 2024

Julian Assange Heads to US Court on Pacific island after Plea Deal

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is due to appear in a US court on Wednesday, where he will formalise a plea deal and leave a free man following a 14-year legal battle.

Mr Assange is expected to arrive in the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory in the Pacific. On Tuesday, he left a British prison and flew to the Thai capital Bangkok for refuelling.

US officials were pursuing Mr Assange, 52, over charges related to a huge disclosure of secret files in 2010, which they said put lives in danger.

Reacting to the deal – which will see Mr Assange plead guilty to one charge – his wife Stella told the BBC she was “elated”.

As part of his lengthy legal marathon, Mr Assange has spent the last five years behind bars in the UK, resisting American attempts to extradite him.

He also faced separate charges of rape and sexual assault in Sweden, which he denied. He spent seven years hiding in Ecuador’s London embassy, claiming the Swedish case would lead him to be sent to the US.

Swedish authorities dropped the case in 2019 and said that too much time had passed since the original complaint, but UK authorities later took him into custody. He was tried for not surrendering to the courts to be extradited to Sweden.

In the US, Mr Assange was charged with conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information, following the massive Wikileaks disclosure in 2010.

Wikileaks had released a video from a US military helicopter which showed civilians being killed in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

It also published thousands of confidential documents suggesting that the US military had killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents during the war in Afghanistan.

The revelations became a huge story, prompting reaction from all corners of the globe, and led to intense scrutiny of American involvement in foreign conflicts.

The Northern Mariana Islands, where Mr Assange’s plea deal is expected to be made official, is a remote Pacific archipelago and US commonwealth. It is much closer to Australia than US federal courts in Hawaii or the continental US.

In exchange for pleading guilty to a single charge under the Espionage Act, Mr Assange will spend no time in US custody and will receive credit for the time spent incarcerated in the UK.

He will ultimately return to Australia, according to a letter from the US justice department. (BBC)


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