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Julian Assange on board a flight to Bangkok, Thailand, following his release from prison. Alamy Stock Photo

Julian Assange en route to Saipan to plead guilty in US court before flying home to Australia

The International Federation of Journalists described Assange’s release as “a significant victory for media freedom”.


WIKILEAKS FOUNDER JULIAN Assange has been released from prison and left the UK after reaching a plea deal with US authorities. 

Assange has since touched down in Bangkok, Thailand for a stopover on his way to the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, where he is to appear before a federal judge in Saipan and plead guilty to a single count of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified US national defence information. 

He will appear before the court at around midnight tonight (Irish time).

Press representative groups have described his release as a victory for media freedom.

Assange was originally indicted on 18 counts under the Espionage Act, which could have seen him serve up to 170 years in prison if convicted. 

Those charges followed the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, some of which was provided by US military analyst whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

He will return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing, which is understood to be the five years he served in the UK’s Belmarsh Prison, meaning he can go free. 

A plane carrying Assange left Stansted Airport yesterday before landing at a Bangkok airport for refuelling at around 6am (Irish time) today.

In a statement posted on X just after midnight, the official WikiLeaks account said Assange was granted bail by the High Court in London and released from Belmarsh Prison yesterday morning “after having spent 1,901 days there”.

The statement continued: “He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.

“This is the result of a global campaign that spanned grass-roots organisers, press freedom campaigners, legislators and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations.

screen-grab-taken-from-the-x-formerly-twitter-account-of-wikileaks-of-julian-assange-arriving-in-bangkok-thailand-following-his-release-from-prison-mr-assange-was-granted-bail-by-the-high-court-i Julian Assange arriving in Bangkok, Thailand. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“This created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice, leading to a deal that has not yet been formally finalised.”

Video posted to X by WikiLeaks showed Assange, seated and dressed casually in jeans and a shirt, discussing the text on a sheet of paper. He is then shown walking up steps onto a Vista Jet aircraft.

Speaking on Assange’s release, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the nation’s parliament, “we want him brought home to Australia”.

He said: “I’ve been very clear as both the Labour leader and opposition, but also as prime minister that – regardless of the views that people have about Mr Assange’s activities – the case has dragged on for too long.

“There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.”

Albanese added that Australian diplomats “have engaged and advocated Australia’s interest using all appropriate channels to support a positive outcome”, which he took up early in his role after being elected prime minister in 2022.

Australia had been applying pressure to the US to agree to a plea deal earlier this year.


A letter to the United States’ chief judge of the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands Ramona V Manglona, as seen by the PA news agency, also confirmed Assange intends to return to Australia once proceedings conclude.

The WikiLeaks statement also thanked “all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom”.

In a separate post on X, Assange’s wife Stella Assange said: “Julian is free!!!!

“Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU- yes YOU, who have all mobilised for years and years to make this come true. THANK YOU. tHANK YOU. THANK YOU.”

Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, told Australia’s Sky News that she is “grateful” her son’s ordeal is “finally coming to an end”.

Lengthy battle

Assange had been locked in a lengthy legal battle in the UK over his extradition, which saw him enter and live in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 before his detention in Belmarsh prison. 

The Trump Administration even considered attempting to assassinate Assange while he was staying in the embassy. 

Assange was forced to leave the embassy when a change in political leadership in Ecuador meant he no longer had the government’s support.

In a January 2021 ruling, then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser said Assange should not be sent to the US, citing a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide, while ruling against him on all other issues.

Later that year, US authorities won a High Court bid to overturn this block, paving the way towards Assange’s extradition.

Assange was due to bring his own challenge to the High Court in London in early July after he was recently given the go-ahead to challenge the original judge’s dismissal of parts of his case.

Assange has been in custody at Belmarsh high security prison for more than five years, fighting his lengthy legal battle against extradition to the United States. While in prison, Assange was held in a cell by himself 23 hours a day, with one hour for exercise. 

In a statement today, Stephen Parkinson, the UK Director of Public Prosecutions, said:

“This case has absorbed considerable time and resource from the criminal justice system over many years. The intended outcome of the plea agreement will be to accomplish the primary objective of delivering justice. It will also save the continuing substantial resource outlay involved in litigating this matter further in England.”

John Sheehan, Head of Extradition at the Crown Prosecution Service, said:

“This has been a highly complex matter involving advising and representing the Swedish and US authorities.

“In this period, the CPS’s extradition unit has faced and dealt with novel and challenging legal issues. Mr Assange has also utilised all the legal protections available to him.

“This has culminated in facilitating the arrangements necessary to enable Mr Assange to leave the UK legally and safely.”  

At one point, Assange had also been fighting a separate extradition request from Sweden, where there was a warrant for his arrest on a sexual assault charge. The warrant was later dropped in 2019. 

“Following the sentencing by the US Federal Judge, the Government of the USA is expected to formally withdraw the extradition request, bringing the English extradition proceedings to a formal and immediate conclusion,” the UK Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement.

‘A victory for media freedom’

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, said:

“The release of Julian Assange, after a hard-fought campaign by journalists worldwide, signifies the final stages of an ordeal he has faced for several years.

“This plea deal is a hopeful beacon for Assange and his family in a case the NUJ has condemned from the start, for its wide-ranging ramifications for journalists exposing truths through their reporting.

“The targeting and persecution of journalists in this way is one that underscores the need to defend journalism and the methods used daily, including when cultivating a source.”

The International Federation of Journalists described Assange’s release as “a significant victory for media freedom” and that the case against him was “one of the most overblown prosecutions in history”.

Amnesty International also welcomed the news. 

“We firmly believe that Julian Assange should never have been imprisoned in the first place and have continuously called for charges to be dropped,” the human right NGO said.

“The years-long global spectacle of the US authorities hell-bent on violating press freedom and freedom of expression by making an example of Assange for exposing alleged war crimes committed by the USA has undoubtedly done historic damage.

With reporting from Press Association

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