WikiLeaks founder Assange freed by U.S. court after guilty plea

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walks outside United States District Court following a hearing, in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S., June 26, 2024.

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Reuters) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was freed by a court on the U.S. Pacific island territory of Saipan on Wednesday after pleading guilty to violating U.S. espionage law, in a deal that will see him return home to Australia.

During the three hour hearing, Assange pled guilty to one criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. national defense documents but said he had believed the Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects free speech, shielded his activities.

“Working as a journalist I encouraged my source to provide information that was said to be classified in order to publish that information,” he told the court.

“I believed the First Amendment protected that activity but I accept that it was … a violation of the espionage statute.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Ramona V. Manglona accepted his guilty plea and released him due to time already served in a British jail.

Assange, 52, is set to leave Saipan shortly after noon local time (0200 GMT) on a private jet accompanied by Australia’s ambassadors to the U.S. and UK, according to flight logs. They will then travel to Canberra, landing just before 7 p.m. (0900 GMT).

Assange had agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count, according to filings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

The U.S. territory in the western Pacific was chosen due to his opposition to traveling to the mainland U.S. and for its proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

Dozens of media from around the world attended the hearing, with more gathered outside the courtroom to cover the proceedings. Media were not allowed inside the courtroom to film the hearing.

“I watch this and think how overloaded his senses must be, walking through the press scrum after years of sensory depravation and the four walls of his high security Belmarsh prison cell,” Stella Assange, the wife of WikiLeaks founder said on social media platform X.


Australian-born Assange spent more than five years in a British high-security jail and seven holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London as he fought accusations of sex crimes in Sweden and battled extradition to the U.S., where he faced 18 criminal charges.

Assange’s supporters view him as a victim because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing and potential crimes, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington has said the release of the secret documents put lives in danger.

The Australian government has been advocating for his release and has raised the issue with the United States several times.

“This isn’t something that has happened in the last 24 hours,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a news conference on Wednesday.

“This is something that has been considered, patient, worked through in a calibrated way, which is how Australia conducts ourselves.”