Julian Assange Enters Plea Deal: US Espionage Charges Dropped

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, has entered a plea deal with the US government, pleading guilty to one count under the US Espionage Act. The remaining charges will be dropped and the US extradition request withdrawn. Assange, currently out on bail, is set for sentencing in Saipan and will return to Australia thereafter.

PTI | Sydney | Updated: 25-06-2024 11:31 IST | Created: 25-06-2024 11:31 IST
Julian Assange Enters Plea Deal: US Espionage Charges Dropped
Julian Assange
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SYDNEY, Jun 25 (The Conversation) – After prolonged legal battles and appeals, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has reached a pivotal plea deal with the US government, court documents reveal.

Assange faced charges including computer misuse and multiple counts of espionage, linked to his work with WikiLeaks publishing sensitive US government documents provided by Chelsea Manning. The US government has frequently asserted that Assange's actions jeopardized national security.

US Federal Court documents from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands indicate Assange will plead guilty to a single count under the US Espionage Act. Consequently, the remaining charges will be dismissed, and the extradition request to the US will be withdrawn. The US has yet to confirm the deal publicly.

A hearing and sentencing in Saipan are scheduled for Wednesday morning, with Assange expected to appear in person. He's been released from London's Belmarsh prison, as WikiLeaks shared images of him traveling to London's Stansted Airport.

The UK High Court has granted Assange bail. Upon his guilty plea, Assange will be sentenced to 62 months in prison, covering time already served in Belmarsh. This resolution concludes ongoing legal actions, including the UK High Court proceedings and the UK Home Secretary's extradition order.

Speculation about this plea deal had been circulating earlier this year. Many anticipated a guilty plea to a misdemeanour related to document mishandling rather than an Espionage Act charge. Initial rumours also suggested a remote completion, but Assange will now be present in court.

This case holds significance as a national security offence for which Assange served over five years. This conviction will likely restrict his travel opportunities, especially to the US, which may not grant him a visa.

The case sets a practical precedent, even if not a legal one, indicating that a publisher can be convicted under the Espionage Act. Journalists have long feared this outcome, worrying it could recur.

There are multiple reasons why the US opted for a plea deal instead of continuing litigation. The Australian government, advocating for the case's resolution, has exerted significant pressure. The case has garnered bipartisan support in Australia.

Though a plea deal hasn't been officially confirmed, a government spokesperson reaffirmed Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's stance against Assange's continued incarceration.

This consistent advocacy has altered the political landscape. Growing US consensus, even among Republicans, now sees continued prosecution as against public interest.

The upcoming UK general election, likely changing the government, might have affected the extradition order. These factors influenced the US to end the Assange saga.

What lies ahead? Post the Saipan hearing, Assange can return to Australia. The Saipan court was chosen due to Assange's reluctance to travel to the US mainland and its closer proximity to Australia.

Assange will find future travel challenging because of his serious criminal record, potentially affecting his UK travel, where he was convicted for absconding bail, receiving a year's imprisonment.

Looking forward, a presidential pardon in the US remains a possibility, contingent on the outcome of the November US elections. The US exhibits greater leniency in granting pardons than most nations.

For now, Assange's immediate focus is the Saipan court appearance and subsequent return to Australia, albeit with a substantial criminal record. (The Conversation) RUP

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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