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Assange pleads guilty to one count of US espionage, walks free

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleaded guilty in a remote US court on Wednesday to one count of conspiracy for releasing troves of US classified documents via WikiLeaks. The Australian national was released with time served. He had spent the past five years in a UK prison, where he had been battling extradition requests from the US. For seven years prior, he was confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had sought refuge from legal battles in the US, on national security grounds, and in Sweden, where he was accused of sexual misconduct. Though he was initially granted asylum by Ecuadorian authorities, the grant was revoked in 2019, and he was taken into custody by British authorities. He was allowed to leave UK custody Monday, having negotiated a plea deal with the US Department of Justice.

In 2006, Assange founded WikiLeaks, a website reputed for high-profile releases of leaked classified documents, including unredacted US diplomatic cables and sensitive defense information. A deeply polarizing figure, his supporters see him as a champion of free speech whose dedication to transparency has exposed war crimes and human rights abuses, while his critics see him as a threat to national security whose leaks endangered lives.

Assange had originally faced 18 counts in the US related to the acquisition and dissemination of military and intelligence leaks. Had he been extradited to the US, he could have faced up to 175 years in prison under the US Department of Justice’s previous indictment. Updated charging documents released Tuesday charge Assange with one count of Conspiracy to Obtain and Disclose National Defense Information, alleging that Assange had worked with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to publish leaked US documents classified as top secret, secret, and confidential. Manning was sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in military prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, including most infamously a 2007 video that showed US Army airstrikes firing on people from helicopters, killing several of them, including two Reuters journalists. Then-US President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in 2017, citing disproportionate punishment.

Assange entered his plea before a US federal court in the Northern Mariana Islands — a US commonwealth about 3,500 miles north of Sydney, Australia. According to court documents, Assange had been resistant to entering a plea in the US mainland, thus prompting the parties to agree to the remote Pacific Ocean location.

Article: Assange pleads guilty to one count of US espionage, walks free

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