From 28m ago

Assange pleads guilty to US espionage charge

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

Assange and his lawyers are now standing. He is asked if he will plead guilty or not guilty.

Assange leans forward to the microphone. Asked if he will plead guilty or not guilty, Assange replies:

Guilty to the information.

(This is a guilty plea, in legal language.)

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Updated at 19.43 EDT

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Assange and his lawyers are now standing. He is asked if he will plead guilty or not guilty.

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Assange leans forward to the microphone. Asked if he will plead guilty or not guilty, Assange replies:

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\n

Guilty to the information.

\n

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(This is a guilty plea, in legal language.)

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Julian Assange is now being sworn in.

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“My name is Julian Paul Assange,” he tells the court, spelling out his name. It’s the first words we’ve heard from him.

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Julian Assange has arrived in court.

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Australia’s ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd, and ambassador to the UK, Stephen Smith, are sitting behind him as supporters.

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The last two seats in the main courtroom have been filled, and it’s expected now that anyone else wanting to watch proceedings will be put into an overflow room.

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The hearing, in front of chief judge Ramona V Manglona, is expected to start any minute. The Guardian saw Assange entering a side room about 20 minutes ago.

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As we reported earlier, Julian Assange arrived at court in Saipan alongside Australia’s ambassador to the US and former prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

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Rudd served as the Australian prime minister from 2007 to 2010 as leader of the Labor party. In 2010 he resigned as leader following a leadership challenge from his then-deputy, Julia Gillard.

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He eventually defeated Gillard in a leadership spill in 2013, becoming prime minister for the second time, but this was short-lived – Labor lost the federal election just two months later.

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Rudd first entered the Australian parliament in 1988 as the federal member for Griffith, in the inner southern suburbs of Brisbane, Queensland. He was appointed shadow minister for foreign affairs in 2001 and first became Labor leader in late 2006.

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Rudd is known for delivering the first national apology to Australia’s Indigenous people for the Stolen Generations.

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founder Julian Assange (left) and Kevin Rudd (right).","caption":"WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (left) and Kevin Rudd (right).","credit":"Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP"}},{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TextBlockElement","html":"

Never one to shy away from the cameras, after retiring from politics he was appointed as Australia’s ambassador to the United States in late 2022. The current Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said at the time his appointment would be well served “at a time when our region is being reshaped by strategic competition” between the US and China.

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Rudd spent time as the global president and chief executive of the international relations institute the Asia Society, and can speak Mandarin.

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There are about 40 to 50 media and supporters of Julian Assange here at the district courthouse in Saipan. Many of the journalists have flown in from overseas to cover what is one of the longest running sagas in media.

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The courthouse sits at the foot of lush hillside on Saipan’s coast, in the village of Gualo Rai. In front is the sparkling Pacific, and a beach with stray kittens running among the trees.

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The atmosphere in the court car park is buzzing, Saipan hasn’t had a story like this in as long as local journalists can remember and there is bemusement at the faster pace, sense of stress, and pushiness of the fly-in reporters compared with the usual laid back style.

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Assange landed around 6am this morning, on a half-million dollar charter flight from London. He was accompanied by the Australian ambassadors to the UK and US, and a convoy of cars took him straight to the nearby Crowne Plaza hotel.

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Just a few hours later he arrived at court, wearing a dark suit and a neutral expression. He took no questions from the swarming media, including one shouted query if he preferred the weather in Saipan to London.

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Assange arrives at court in Saipan.","caption":"Julian Assange arrives at court in Saipan.","credit":"Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images"}},{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TextBlockElement","html":"

Inside the courthouse, guards and court officers greeted the visitors with patience and warnings against recording anything while inside.

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In the wood panelled courtroom, two flags sit beside the judge’s chair – one, the Stars and Stripes, the other for this Pacific territory.

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Assange had agreed to appear before a US court but, ever suspicious, refused to go to the continental US. And so he, Stephen Smith, Kevin Rudd, and a handful of international media found themselves on this island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

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Less than half an hour from now Assange is expected to plead guilty to one count of breaking the espionage act in return for his freedom.

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Here is a video of the moment Julian Assange arrived at court in Saipan alongside Australia’s ambassador to the US and former prime minister, Kevin Rudd:

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As we previously mentioned, Julian Assange will appear in a United States district court in Saipan at 9am local time today.

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Saipan is the largest island and capital of the Mariana islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific.

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Like territories such as Guam or Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands are part of the US without the full status of a state.

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The roughly 51,000 residents are US citizens but cannot vote in presidential elections. Crucially, some, like Saipan, also host US district courts.

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The location of the court is because Assange is opposed to travelling to the continental US, and its proximity to his native Australia – roughly 3,000km.

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– with Reuters

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general view of the Saipan International Airport early this morning.","caption":"A general view of the Saipan International Airport early this morning.","credit":"Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images"}}],"attributes":{"pinned":false,"keyEvent":true,"summary":false},"blockCreatedOn":1719351529000,"blockCreatedOnDisplay":"17.38 EDT","blockLastUpdated":1719352562000,"blockLastUpdatedDisplay":"17.56 EDT","blockFirstPublished":1719352563000,"blockFirstPublishedDisplay":"17.56 EDT","blockFirstPublishedDisplayNoTimezone":"17.56","title":"Where is Saipan, and why is Julian Assange there?","contributors":[],"primaryDateLine":"Tue 25 Jun 2024 20.06 EDT","secondaryDateLine":"First published on Tue 25 Jun 2024 17.28 EDT"},{"id":"667b3aa68f08fb1b8fd169e7","elements":[{"_type":"model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TextBlockElement","html":"

Here are some photos from the moment Julian Assange arrived at a US district court in Saipan, alongside former prime minister and current Australian ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd.

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Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

Judge considers sentencing

The court is now hashing out sentencing details, and if Judge Manglona is to accept the guilty plea and other aspects of the agreement.

The US attorneys are telling the court details of the 35-year sentence initially issued to Assange’s “co-conspirator”, Chelsea Manning. That sentence was later commuted by then president, Barack Obama, and she served approximately seven years. The judge says this is something she can consider.

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Updated at 20.06 EDT

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

The US government is not pursuing any forfeiture from Assange.

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

‘I am’: Assange says he is guilty of charge

Assange said he read “at great length” and signed the plea agreement while at Stansted airport on 24 June.

Judge Manglona has checked several times that no one has tried to bribe, intimidate or coerce Assange to plead guilty. He’s said no every time.

She asks if he is pleading guilty because he is “in fact guilty of that charge”. Assange takes a sizeable pause and says:

I am.

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Updated at 20.00 EDT

The Guardian has not independently confirmed this, but WikiLeaks has posted to X that Assange may depart for Canberra, Australia in less than three hours on Flight VJT199.

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Expected to depart in 2 hours, 58 minutes. To Canberra, Australia.

Flight VJT199 #AssangeJet: https://t.co/gxcbvNyvnj pic.twitter.com/t239sHob7Q

&mdash; WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 25, 2024

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Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

US attorneys are now reading out the plea agreement, and some slight amendments to language.

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

Court proceedings moving quickly

Manglona is a professional and experienced chief judge. She’s roaring through this hearing, noting several times that most don’t go this quickly, and stopping to check that Julian Assange is keeping up with all the legalities.

She asks if Assange is satisfied with the proceedings so far, and he jokes that it might depend on the outcome.

His lawyer adds, “no pressure, your honour”.

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

Julian Assange is required to instruct WikiLeaks to destroy the information and provide an affidavit that he has done so.

The US attorneys are satisfied that he has done this.

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

Assange faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. After a sentence is pronounced, the court could still set a probationary period of one to five years.

This is all because the offence to which you are here to plead guilty is a class C felony.

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Updated at 19.43 EDT

Assange pleads guilty to US espionage charge

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

Assange and his lawyers are now standing. He is asked if he will plead guilty or not guilty.

Assange leans forward to the microphone. Asked if he will plead guilty or not guilty, Assange replies:

Guilty to the information.

(This is a guilty plea, in legal language.)

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Updated at 19.43 EDT

‘You only get a bit of time on this earth’: Assange’s father

Circling back to Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, who was speaking with ABC News just earlier.

He is asked how he feels about Assange’s agreement to plead guilty to espionage, in hopes of returning to Australia?

I divide it into two. One is the human factor, that you only get a bit of time on this earth to spend with your loved ones. That’s all you get. The construction, or if you like the exposition and understanding of that is incapsulated in the decision to make freedom available to Julian under certain circumstances is vital. You can’t live here without time on this earth and spending time with your loved ones is really important.

The other section … state to state relationships, how states can work together and do work together, particularly when the United States is immensely powerful – a super power in economy and military and Australia relatively is small and weak, relatively, to that gigantic super power.

John Shipton, the father of Julian Assange. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian
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Updated at 19.39 EDT

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

Judge Manglona says she accepts Assange’s waiver.

It is 9.34am.

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Updated at 19.48 EDT

Helen Davidson

Helen Davidson

Judge reads charge

Manglona is now reading the charge against Assange, of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US documents.

This is a crime that’s punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

She is explaining the formalities – that if he doesn’t waive his right to an indictment by pleading guilty he could be sent to trial.

Assange is answering with short answers to her questions, saying he understands.

Manglona: “Do you wish to waive your right to an indictment to a grand jury?”

“Yes,” he says.

Assange sits at the desk, leaning forward to the microphone with his hands together.

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Updated at 19.38 EDT

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