WikiLeaks founder Assange pleads guilty to espionage charge ahead of expected release

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at a United States District Court in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S., June 26. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleaded guilty to one charge of violating U.S. espionage law on Wednesday in a courtroom on the U.S. Pacific island territory of Saipan where he is expected to walk free after a deal with U.S. prosecutors.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at a United States District Court in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S., June 26. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleaded guilty to one charge of violating U.S. espionage law on Wednesday in a courtroom on the U.S. Pacific island territory of Saipan where he is expected to walk free after a deal with U.S. prosecutors. (Kim Hong-Ji, Reuters)


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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleded guilty to one charge of violating U.S. espionage law on Wednesday in a courtroom on the U.S. Pacific island territory of Saipan where he is expected to walk free after a deal with U.S. prosecutors.

Assange, 52, arrived at the court house in a white SUV. He was wearing a black suit and smiled as he walked past security with his team and Australia's ambassador to the U.S. Kevin Rudd.

Dozens of media from around the world gathered outside the courtroom to cover the proceedings. Media is not allowed inside the courtroom to cover 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.

Assange had agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. national defence documents, 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 Assange's opposition to travelling to the mainland U.S. and for its proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

If the judge approves his plea, Assange is expected to return to his home in Australia, U.S. prosecutors have said.

Assange is due to be sentenced to 62 months of time already served at the hearing.

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.

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

"For any Australian to be in a position of being in protracted incarceration without legal resolution is a situation where the government should be advocating on their behalf and we have been doing that," Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told ABC television on Wednesday.

Marles added that Assange's release would not sour relations between Australia and close ally United States.

Contributor: Minwoo Park and Renju Jose

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