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Julian Assange back in Australia as a free man

Julian Assange upon his arrival in Canberra

After twelve years in embassy asylum and prison, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is back in his homeland of Australia. He landed in Canberra on a private jet. An agreement with the US judiciary had previously made Assange’s release possible.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has returned to his Australian homeland after a twelve-year legal odyssey. A chartered Bombardier plane with the 52-year-old on board landed in the capital Canberra.

Hugs and welcome calls at the airport

After landing, Assange had an emotional reunion with his family. Videos on social networks showed the 52-year-old hugging his wife Stella shortly after leaving the plane – for the first time in freedom. Immediately afterwards, Assange was also able to hug his father John Shipton.

Numerous eyewitnesses cheered as Assange left the charter plane. Shouts of “Welcome home” could be heard. The Australian waved to the crowd and raised his fist in the sky several times. Wikileaks is planning a press conference at which Assange will speak publicly for the first time about the previous legal deal with the US authorities that made his release possible.

Julian Assange umarmte nach der Ankunft seine Frau Stella

Assange became a “free man” on Saipan

Assange had previously flown from London via Bangkok to the Mariana Islands of Saipan, a US territory in the western Pacific. There, a court approved the agreement with the US justice system. With the verdict, “it seems that you can leave this courtroom as a free man,” said Judge Ramona V. Manglona at the end of the hearing. Assange’s British and Australian lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, spoke of a “historic day.”

Previously, as part of the deal with the US justice system, Assange had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to obtain and pass on information for national defense. According to media reports, the 52-year-old made a partial confession in a court on the Mariana Islands, a US territory in the western Pacific, on Wednesday (local time).

A hero – or a security risk?

Assange was released from prison in the UK on Monday – the Australian had been incarcerated there since 2019. Assange was accused in the US of publishing around 700,000 confidential documents about US military and diplomatic activities from 2010 onwards. The papers contained explosive information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the killing of civilians and the mistreatment of prisoners by US military personnel. For his supporters, Assange is a hero who stands up for freedom of expression. His critics see the 52-year-old as a threat to US security.

“We firmly believe that Mr. Assange should never have been charged under the Espionage Act and was carrying out an activity that journalists carry out every day,” his US lawyer Barry Pollack told reporters on the Mariana Islands. Wikileaks’ work will continue, he said.

Assange believed in freedom of the press

US broadcaster NPR quoted Assange as saying that as a journalist he encouraged his source to “provide him with information that was supposedly secret in order to publish that information”. He was convinced that this was protected by press freedom in the US, but he accepted that it would be difficult to win such a case.

However, the precedent could pave the way for journalists to be brought to justice if they receive classified material from whistleblowers, warned the executive director of the US association Committee to Protect Journalists, Jodie Ginsberg.

British government had agreed to extradition to the USA in 2022

Assange was imprisoned for twelve years. For seven years he found asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and another five years he spent in the British high-security prison Belmarsh.

The agreement came two weeks before an important hearing before the British judiciary on July 9. The appeal was to concern Assange’s extradition to the USA. Following a court decision, the British government agreed to Assange’s extradition in June 2022, but the Wikileaks founder fought against it. He had faced up to 175 years in prison.

Assange’s health is affected

Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton said on the US radio program Democracy Now that Julian Assange’s physical and mental state had been affected by his imprisonment. His wife Stella Assange announced in a video that a fund had been set up for her husband’s recovery.

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