Julian Assange is free

The Wikileaks co-founder reached a plea deal with the US Department of Justice which will reportedly spare him of any additional prison time

June 24, 2024 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo: Wikileaks

After over a decade of facing intense persecution by the US government, Julian Assange finally walked free. The Wikileaks co-founder and publisher left Belmarsh Prison at 5:00 pm on Monday June 24 and boarded a flight to depart the UK. Assange gained his freedom after agreeing to plead guilty to conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information.

The publisher spent the past five years in the super-max Belmarsh Prison while fighting an extradition request from the US Department of Justice. In May 2019, a month after he was arrested and dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the US DOJ lodged 18 charges against Assange, 17 under the infamous Espionage Act, which could have resulted in a sentence of 175 years in prison. The charges were related to the release and publication by Wikileaks of leaked classified documents that exposed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with several other violations of international law, by the US.

Read more: WikiLeaks’ Guantanamo files exposed inhumane American ‘war on terror’

Assange and his defense team have fought tirelessly against his extradition, and had recently been granted another chance to appeal.

He is set to appear in a US Court in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday June 26 and will reportedly return to his home country of Australia afterwards. As part of the deal, Assange had requested to avoid court proceedings on the mainland United States.

The news of Assange’s freedom was celebrated by progressive groups and press freedom advocates across the globe. Assange’s case had garnered support from renowned journalists, politicians, artists, activists, and human rights defenders in every corner of the world.

Read more of our extensive coverage of the Julian Assange case

Wikileaks, when breaking the news about his release, wrote, “This is the result of a global campaign that spanned grass-roots organizers, press freedom campaigners, legislators and leaders from across the political spectrum, all the way to the United Nations.”

Stella Assange, Julian’s wife and the mother of his two children, echoed this sentiment stating, “Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU- yes YOU, who have all mobilized for years and years to make this come true. THANK YOU.”

The International Peoples’ Assembly, one of the international networks that advocated and mobilized for Assange’s release, also celebrated the news of his release and emphasized, “Julian Assange was a political prisoner of the US empire. His unjust imprisonment for 1,901 days represented an attack on the freedom of the press and an attempt to cover up the truth about the horrors committed by the US war machine.⁠”

The campaign for Assange’s release went beyond movements. In the last several years, Latin American heads of state including Colombian President Gustavo Petro, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had also joined their voices to the call for justice.

In a letter written in September 2020, Lula called Assange a “hero” and affirmed that “No one who believes in democracy can allow someone who provided such an important contribution to the cause of liberty to be punished for doing so. Assange, I repeat, is a champion of democracy and should be released immediately.” He added that Brazilians have a special debt to Wikileaks as they published documents which revealed some of the plot behind the parliamentary coup against Dilma Rousseff.

Mexican President AMLO had said that if Assange were extradited to the US, then the world would have to start a campaign to get rid of the Statue of Liberty, “because it is no longer a symbol of freedom”. While head of government of Mexico City, the now incoming Mexican President Claudia Sheinbaum, declared Assange a distinguished guest of the city and gave the keys to the city to his father John Shipton and brother Gabriel Shipton.

Read more: Mexico City gives Julian Assange keys to the city

While still celebrating the release, some have criticized the fact that Assange had to plead guilty to any of the charges he was facing for doing his job as a publisher. Vijay Prashad, Marxist historian and journalist, wrote, “Julian Assange does not need to plead guilty to the US government.”

After his court proceeding on Wednesday June 26, Assange will return to Australia and be reunited with his family.