Assange to plead guilty to one charge of espionage and return home to Australia after decades fighting US extradition.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty this week to violating espionage law in the United States, according to court filings, in a deal that will end his imprisonment in the United Kingdom and allow him to return home to Australia.

Assange, 52, 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 due to be sentenced to 62 months of time already served at a hearing on the island of Saipan in the Pacific at 9am on Wednesday (23:00 GMT on Tuesday).

“Julian Assange is free,” Wikileaks said in a statement posted on X.

“He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of 24 June, after having spent 1901 days there. He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stanstead airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.”

Assange rose to prominence with the launch of Wikileaks in 2006, creating an online whistleblower platform for people to submit classified material such as documents and videos anonymously. Footage of a US Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, which killed a dozen people, including two journalists, raised the platform’s profile. The 2010 release of hundreds of thousands of classified US documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a trove of diplomatic cables, cemented its reputation.

While Wikileaks published material about many countries, its Australian founder was charged in 2019, during the administration of former US President Donald Trump, with 17 counts of breaching the US’s Espionage Act.

US lawyers had argued he was guilty of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former army intelligence analyst, who spent seven years in prison for leaking material to WikiLeaks before former US President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.

The charges sparked outrage, with Assange’s supporters arguing that, as the publisher and editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, he should not have faced charges usually used against federal government employees who steal or leak information.

Press freedom advocates, meanwhile, argued that criminally charging Assange was a threat to free speech.

“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” Wikileaks said in its statement announcing the plea deal.

“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know. As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom.”

Assange was first arrested in London in 2010 on a Swedish warrant accusing him of sexual assault. Allowed bail pending the extradition case, Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s London Embassy in 2012 after a court ruled he could be sent to Sweden for trial.

He spent the next seven years in the tiny embassy – during which time Swedish police withdrew the rape charges – before UK police arrested him on charges of breaching his bail conditions.

Assange was being held in prison in the UK as the US extradition case went through the courts.

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