Spy scandal: Julian Assange pleads guilty in US court

Spy scandal: Julian Assange pleads guilty in US court
Spy scandal: Julian Assange pleads guilty in US court

The years-long legal odyssey for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange ends with a legal deal and a grand finale on a remote Pacific island. After that, he will be a free man.

After his release from British custody, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange pleaded guilty to one count of espionage in a US court. The Washington Post and the British Guardian reported this from the courtroom on the Mariana Island of Saipan, a US territory in the Western Pacific. Assange had previously made a deal with the US judiciary and, in return for pleading guilty, will be released after serving his sentence.

Assange is the protagonist of a major espionage scandal. In 2006, the Australian founded the platform Wikileaks with the mission of supporting whistleblowers and bringing hidden information to light. From 2010 onwards, Wikileaks published secret material from US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The USA subsequently accused Assange of stealing and publishing secret material, thereby endangering the lives of US informants.

Before the deal, up to 175 years in prison were threatened

For a long time, the American judiciary wanted to put Assange on trial for espionage charges. He would have faced up to 175 years in prison in the USA. Instead, he recently negotiated a deal with the US judiciary and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally obtain and distribute secret documents. The US court on the island of Saipan sentenced him to more than five years in prison. This corresponds to the length of time the internet activist has already spent in a high-security prison in London.

The justice deal is intended to spare Assange further imprisonment in the USA. The USA had previously demanded his extradition from Great Britain. Instead, the 52-year-old was to be released immediately after the court session, according to US court documents published in advance. From Saipan, he was to travel directly to his homeland Australia. The court hearing was therefore not held on the American mainland, but in the remote US territory. The Northern Mariana Islands are several thousand kilometers north of Australia.

Year-long odyssey comes to an adventurous end

Assange was released from prison in London without being noticed by the public and left the UK on a chartered plane. After a stopover in the Thai capital Bangkok, he finally flew on to Saipan.

It is the adventurous end of a years-long odyssey with many legal battles. Assange began his sentence in the high-security Belmarsh prison in London about five years ago. Before his arrest in April 2019, he had evaded the reach of law enforcement authorities for seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. They had initially targeted him on charges of rape in Sweden. However, these charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence.

While the USA demanded Assange’s extradition for years, human rights organisations, journalists’ associations, artists and politicians called for his immediate release. The Australian government also campaigned for the release of its citizen.

Source: Stern

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