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    InternationalWikiLeaks Hero Julian Assange freed by US Court

    WikiLeaks Hero Julian Assange freed by US Court


    Northlines Newsdesk

    After years of legal drama, a US judge liberated Julian Assange on Wednesday as part of a plea deal. Washington has long sought Assange's release because he had revealed military secrets.

    “It seems that you will be allowed to leave this courtroom free man,” the judge declared in a Northern Mariana Islands court, a US territory in the Pacific.

    AFP reporters present in the courtroom said that Assange had entered a guilty plea to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and publish material related to defense.

    “As a journalist, I pushed my source to submit information that was purportedly classified,” the 52-year-old stated in court while sporting a brown tie and a black suit. His hair was pulled back.

    Assange was freed from a high-security British prison on Monday. Assange was the founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks and exposed hundreds of thousands of classified US papers starting in 2010.
    With credit for the time he spent incarcerated in Britain while battling extradition to the United States, the judge on Wednesday sentenced him to five years and two months in prison.
    During a lull in the proceedings, Assange, seeming weary but at ease, chuckled briefly with Australia's ambassador to the US, Kevin Rudd.
    The little courthouse was crowded with interested locals and journalists, many of whom were wearing bright Hawaiian shirts. A resident of Saipan told AFP that he had arrived to “see the main event.”

    The Northern Mariana Islands was chosen because of Assange's unwillingness to go to the continental United States and because of its proximity to Australia, a court filing said.

    After the hearing is done, Assange will fly to Canberra in Australia, WikiLeaks said on social media platform X, adding that the plea bargain “should never have had to happen.”

    Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the plea deal hearing was a “welcome development”, after his government said Assange's case had “dragged on for too long” with “nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration”.

    End of an ordeal

    Since 2010 Assange has become a hero to free speech campaigners and a villain to those who thought he had endangered US security and intelligence sources.

    US authorities wanted to put Assange on trial for divulging military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    He was indicted by a US federal grand jury in 2019 on 18 counts stemming from WikiLeaks' publication of a trove of national security documents.

    The United Nations hailed Assange's release, saying the case had raised “a series of human rights concerns”.

    Assange's mother Christine Assange said in a statement carried by Australian media that she was “grateful that my son's ordeal is finally coming to an end.”

    But former US vice president Mike Pence slammed the plea deal on X as a “miscarriage of justice” that “dishonors the service and sacrifice of the men and women of our Armed Forces.”

    The announcement of the deal came two weeks before Assange was scheduled to appear in court in Britain to appeal against a ruling that approved his extradition to the United States.

    Extradition battle

    Assange had been detained in the high-security Belmarsh prison in London since April 2019.

    He was arrested after spending seven years in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault that were eventually dropped.

    The material he released through WikiLeaks included video showing civilians being killed by fire from a US helicopter gunship in Iraq in 2007. The victims included a photographer and a driver from Reuters.

    The United States accused Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act and supporters warned he risked being sentenced to 175 years in prison.

    The British government approved his extradition in June 2022 but — in a recent twist — two British judges said in May that he could appeal against the transfer.

    The plea deal was not entirely unexpected. US President Joe Biden had been under growing pressure to drop the long-running case against Assange.

    The Australian government made an official request to that effect in February and Biden said he would consider it, raising hopes among Assange supporters that his ordeal might end.

    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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