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Julian Assange walks free after 1900 days in UK prison

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been freed from UK’s high-security Belmarsh prison on Monday, June 24, following a plea deal with the US government. According to a filing from the US District Court for the Northern Marina Islands, the agreement sees Assange plead guilty to one count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents. He’ll now appear at court in Saipan, a US Pacific territory, at 9 AM on Wednesday, June 26, where he’ll be sentenced to 62 months in prison — a sentence he’s already served in the UK. Following the verdict, Assange is expected to return to his home country, Australia.

Assange rose to prominence after he founded WikiLeaks in 2006, an online whistleblower platform that allowed anyone to submit classified material anonymously. While his platform published material about many countries, the US decided to charge him with 17 counts of breaching the Espionage Act during the Trump administration in 2019.

The case had severe legal implications for journalists worldwide because if Assange had been extradited to the US and prosecuted, that would’ve set a precedent for any journalist or organisation worldwide that may have published classified information about the US in the public domain.

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Who is Julian Assange?

Julian Assange is an Australian editor and publisher, probably best known for the aforementioned WikiLeaks platform, which gained massive notoriety in 2010 after publishing almost half a million documents related to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Born July 3, 1971, in Queensland, Australia, Assange wasn’t always a journalist. He started as a computer programmer and as a teenager, under the moniker “Mendax” ended up infiltrating multiple secure systems including those at NASA and the Pentagon.

Why did Julian Assange step down as WikiLeaks editor

Consequently, he was charged in 1991 with 31 counts of cybercrime, pleading guilty to most of them, but only received a small fine as a punishment, with the judge ruling that his actions were those of a curious teenager. He then studied physics at the University of Melbourne, where he withdrew before finishing his degree and worked as a computer security consultant, which set the basis for his future endeavours.

This was followed by WikiLeaks in 2006, and by 2010, Assange was on the US government’s radar for leaking the aforementioned confidential documents obtained from US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Then US President Barack Obama’s administration criticised the leak as a threat to US national security but did not pursue criminal charges at the time, despite Manning being arrested and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

WikiLeaks also released nearly 250,000 secret diplomatic cables from US embassies worldwide in 2011, with some picked up by major newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian. This was also when legal troubles began brewing up for Assange. In November 2010, Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange on an allegation of sexual assault, however, he denied the charges stating they were a pretext to extradite him to the US for his publications.

He was arrested in London in December 2010 and held without bond, pending a possible extradition to Sweden. Eventually, Assange was released on bail, but a February 2011 ruling by a British judge gave a green light to his extradition, a decision appealed by his lawyers. The matter was then referred to the Supreme Court following the British High Court’s decision that Assange’s extradition was of “general public importance.” While the Supreme Court figured out whether or not the extradition should go ahead, Assange was placed under house arrest on the estate of a WikiLeaks supporter in Norfolk.

His extradition appeal was denied by the British Supreme Court in June 2012, forcing Assange to seek refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy and apply for asylum because extradition to Sweden could lead to prosecution in the US for actions related to WikiLeaks. Assange claimed that a trial in the US would be politically motivated and could end up with him getting the death penalty.

Photo: Dani Ber /
Photo: Dani Ber /

While his asylum request was granted in August 2012, he stayed stuck in the embassy for seven years. Assange has won dozens of awards for his journalism, including the New Media Award from The Economist, the Sam Adams Award, a gold medal from the Sydney Peace Foundation, the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, the Amnesty International UK New Media Award, the Stuttgart Peace Prize, and more. Most of his awards and recognition came when he was either in jail or locked in the Ecuadoran embassy.

He also tried to get a seat in the Australian Senate and founded the WikiLeaks party in July 2013. However, the party performed poorly in the elections, gaining less than one percent of the national vote and having no seats in the Senate. In 2015, despite Swedish officials dropping their investigations into three of the allegations against Assange, they continued pursuing a rape allegation, and Assange continued being locked in the embassy.

WikiLeaks did not stop publishing in the meantime. In 2016, it started publishing internal communications from the Democratic Party and the campaign of its candidate, Hilary Clinton. Assange himself wasn’t a big fan of Clinton either, and the timing of WikiLeaks publishing made sure to do maximum damage to Clinton’s campaign. Despite several independent cybersecurity researchers and US law enforcement agencies claiming that the data was obtained by hackers working with Russian intelligence agencies, Assange denied the involvement of Russians in his publishing.

Later, in January 2017, a declassified US intelligence report stated that Assange and WikiLeaks had been part of a larger campaign from Russia against the US. In May 2017, Swedish prosecutors also dropped their investigation into Assange’s sexual assault charges.

In April 2019, after spending seven years locked inside the Ecuadoran embassy, the country withdrew its asylum offer to Assange, citing multiple violations of international law and terms imposed upon him during his stay in the embassy. Following a written confirmation from the British government that Assange won’t be extradited to a country where he could face torture or death, Ecuadoran president Lenin Moreno allowed the British police to enter the embassy and arrest Assange.

While the Swedes had dropped their investigations, Assange was still wanted by the British for failing to appear in court. Subsequently, he went on to spend more than five years in Britain’s high-security Belmarsh Prison. With the plea deal with the US finalised and his term in prison already served under the British, Assange is now expected to return home to Australia, stopping at Saipan to appear in court, hopefully for the last time.

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Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: