Julian Assange supporters ‘overjoyed’ by Wikileaks founder’s plea deal and release

Julian Assange supporters ‘overjoyed’ by Wikileaks founder’s plea deal and release

Supporters and former colleagues of the jailed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have reacted with jubilation to reports that he has reached a plea deal with US prosecutors.

Court documents released on Monday showed that the 52-year-old Australian transparency activist has agreed to plead guilty to a charge under the Espionage Act in exchange for avoiding further imprisonment.

The agreement marks an end to 14 years of legal struggles for the Wikileaks founder, who repeatedly drew the ire of Western officials for exposing government secrets.

"Julian is free!!!!" wrote Assange's wife Stella Assange on Monday evening. "Words cannot express our immense gratitude to you – yes you, who have all mobilized for years and years to make this come true."

Assange's mother Christine said his release "shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy".

"Many have used my son's situation to push their own agendas, so I am grateful to those unseen, hard-working people who put Julian's welfare first," she said.

"The past 14 years has obviously taken a toll on me as a mother, so I wish to thank you in advance for respecting my privacy."

A statement by Wikileaks said Assange was released from the UK’s Belmarsh Prison and would soon be flying back from Australia after appearing before a US judge.

Assange had been under investigation by the US since at least 2010 and fighting US extradition from a British prison cell since 2019, when the Trump administration launched a formal prosecution.

He had previously spent seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid being investigated for rape by Swedish authorities, which he feared could also lead to his extradition to the US.

That affair was one of many incidents that alienated allies on the libertarian Left, while some American conservatives had already openly called for him to be assassinated.

“After more than five years in a 2x3 meter cell, isolated 23 hours a day, he will soon reunite with his wife Stella Assange and their children, who have only known their father from behind bars,” said Wikileaks’ official account on X (formerly Twitter).

“As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”

Glenn Greenwald, a journalist and lawyer who similarly worked with US government leakers to expose a massive worldwide surveillance program in 2012 to 2014, said on Monday that he was "disappointed" by Assange's guilty plea but supported the decision.

"I believe vehemently that he's guilty of nothing, and that if anything he was owed a lot of compensation for unjust imprisonment," said Greenwald.

"But he's married. He has two children who are now growing; I think they are seven and eight. And the ordeal that he has been subjected to over the last 15 years is almost impossible to express."

He added that he believed the US government never wanted a public trial of Assange, but simply to "crush [him], physically and mentally" while sending a message to "future Julian Assanges" that "we will ruin your life if you publish our secrets."

Third party US presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy also hailed the deal, saying: "I am overjoyed. He's a generational hero...

"Julian had to take this. He has heart problems and he would have died in prison. But the security state has imposed a horrifying precedent and dealt a big blow to freedom of the press."

James Ball, a journalist and former Wikileaks member who left the organization in 2011 due to concerns about Assange's leadership described the espionage prosecution as "a risk to press freedom" and questioned why the Biden administration continued it after it was started under Donald Trump.

"Neither side can really call this a win," Ball said on X on Monday. "I do not believe for a second that Julian Assange thinks he did anything wrong here. I do not believe the [US] has a ‘win’, given Assange will walk free. What a waste, and a costly one in more ways than one, this has been."

A spokesperson for Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese confirmed that his office was providing consular aid to Assange.

“Prime Minister Albanese has been clear – Mr Assange’s case has dragged on for too long, and there is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration,” the spokesperson said.