Tuesday, July 23, 2024

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is expected to plead guilty and avoid further prison time as part of the deal with the US

Date:

The Justice Department has reached an agreement with Julian Assange to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to illegally obtain and disseminate classified information, in a deal that is expected to resolve charges against the WikiLeaks founder in the United States without him spending more time in prison. According to court documents unsealed Monday evening.

The deal is expected to effectively end a years-long legal battle by the United States to prosecute Assange over the publication of secret military and diplomatic materials leaked by former US soldier Chelsea Manning in 2010, including some that showed possible war crimes had been committed. By American forces in Iraq.

According to a letter sent by US prosecutors, Assange will plead guilty in the US Federal Court in the Northern Mariana Islands, and is expected to then return to Australia, indicating that prosecutors will not ask the judge to sentence him beyond the five years he has served. The years he spent in London’s Belmarsh Prison fighting extradition.

A plea deal would resolve charges brought by federal prosecutors against Assange under the Espionage Act over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked diplomatic and military documents that have been criticized by First Amendment advocates for their potential effects on media freedom, as well as Assange’s continued detention in the United States. United Kingdom, which has been widely condemned by human rights organizations.

The deal should mean Assange will finally be released after spending more than a decade in some form of confinement while seeking to avoid prosecution by the United States.

For the past five years, Assange has been imprisoned in London’s Belmarsh Prison, one of the UK’s most secure prisons, while fighting US efforts to extradite him.

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Before that, Assange spent seven years detained inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he fled in 2011 to avoid possible sexual assault charges brought against him in Sweden. The Ecuadorian government granted Assange asylum, allowing him to live in the embassy building while British police maintained constant surveillance outside.

But in 2019, the Ecuadorian government expelled Assange, and British police arrested him on the steps of the embassy. Although Swedish prosecutors had dropped the sexual assault case by then, a British court found Assange guilty of violating bail conditions and sentenced him to 50 weeks in prison. Despite serving this lengthy sentence, he has been detained in Belmarsh ever since.

After his arrest in London, US prosecutors quickly unveiled a sealed indictment accusing Assange of conspiring to hack a secret Pentagon computer network and requested his extradition. Weeks later, the Trump administration’s Department of Justice announced a second superseding indictment charging Assange with 17 additional counts of violating the Espionage Act.

This decision to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act has drawn strong criticism from press freedom groups as well as major media organizations in the United States, who fear that this decision will set a precedent that could criminalize any media outlet that publishes classified information. Leading news organizations, including The New York Times, have urged the Biden administration to drop the case.

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But the Biden administration has continued to pursue Espionage Act charges, and after years of legal challenges, Assange appeared to be closing in on extradition last year. But in May, the British Supreme Court ruled that Assange had grounds to appeal the British government’s efforts to extradite him, once again prolonging the legal battle.

In the midst of the legal battle, President Joe Biden earlier this year said publicly that he was “considering” a request from Australia to end the trial against Assange.

The international campaign to release Assange has been ongoing for years, and celebrities and press freedom advocates have joined it. In 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture criticized UK authorities’ treatment of Assange, saying the handling of his case called into question Britain’s commitment to human rights and that his treatment in Belmarsh amounted to “psychological torture”.

Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, is helping to lead the campaign for his release. Stella, who has two young sons with Assange, said she feared for her husband if he was extradited to the United States.

Speaking to ABC News outside Belmarsh Prison last summer after Assange’s visit, Stella said: “If he is transferred to the United States, I can feel he will never come home.”

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