Julian Assange plea deal live: ‘elated’ Stella Assange says couple’s children unaware their father to be freed

Julian Assange’s wife has said that her husband will seek a pardon from the US presidency after making a deal to accept a charge under the US Espionage Act. The WikiLeaks founder is currently en route to Australia after being released from prison the UK.

Assange is reportedly travelling to a hearing on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, where he will be sentenced at 9am local time on Wednesday (11pm GMT on Tuesday).

“The fact that there is a guilty plea, under the Espionage Act in relation to obtaining and disclosing National Defence information is obviously a very serious concern for journalists and national security journalists in general,” she told Reuters.

She told the agency it had been “a rough few years” and that she would not really believe he was free until they were reunited. She said she was still worried something would go wrong. Stella Assange, a lawyer who has worked on his campaign for release for many years, said:

I feel elated. I also feel worried, you know, because I’m so used to this. Anything could happen. I’m worried that until it’s fully signed off, I worry, but it looks like we’ve got there. I’ll really believe it when I have him in front of me and I can take him and hug him and then it will be real you know?

She confirmed that they intend to launch a fundraising campaign, after chartering a flight to take him from the UK to Australia via Thailand and the Northern Mariana Islands had cost $500,000 (£393k / $750k AUD). She told Reuters:

It’s Australian policy that he will have to pay his own return flight so he’s had to charter a flight and so he will basically be in debt when he lands in Canberra. We’re going to launch an emergency fund to try to get this money so that we can pay the Australian government back for his freedom flight.

The couple have two children, who are in Australia with her, but are yet to be told that their father has been released. “All I told them was that there was a big surprise,” she told the BBC earlier, saying the details of Assange’s release needed to be kept under wraps while they were travelling to Australia, and “obviously no one can stop a five and a seven-year-old from, you know, shouting it from the rooftops at any given moment.”

The plea agreement comes months after the US president, Joe Biden, said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange. Assange was indicted during the former president Donald Trump’s administration over the release of hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many press freedom advocates have argued that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.

The International Federation of Journalists has described Julian Assange’s release from prison as a “significant victory for media freedom.”

“The dropping of 17 of the 18 charges that he faced avoids the criminalisation of the normal journalistic practices of encouraging sources to confidentially share evidence of wrongdoing and criminality,” read an IFS statement reported by PA Media, which also offered a reminder that more than 500 journalists remain in prison around the world.

The federation’s president Dominique Pradalie said the development meant “victory for the right to inform and to be informed” and “victory for journalists around the world.”

Its general secretary Anthony Bellanger added: “The attempted prosecution of Julian Assange cast a dark shadow over journalists, particularly those who cover national security issues. Had Assange gone to prison for the rest of his life, any reporter handed a classified document would fear facing a similar fate.”

The National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “The targeting and persecution of journalists in this way is one that underscores the need to defend journalism and the methods used daily, including when cultivating a source.

“Collectively, we must do all that is necessary to protect press freedom and continue to resist efforts threatening the safety of journalists. As the NUJ continues to monitor developments, I hope this juncture leads to a more concrete end to the nightmare experienced by Assange.”

Both of Julian Assange’s parents have spoken to the media today about the impending release of their son.

Assange’s father John Shipton told PA Media he felt “elated” at hearing the news of his son’s dramatic journey from the UK and that his release had “lifted a huge burden” from his family.

He said recent court hearings in the UK had given him hope that the “tide was turning” in his son’s favour, as well as increasing pressure from the Australian government.

Speaking from Australia, he said he hoped his son will spend time “walking along beaches and listening to birds” in the next few weeks and months.

Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, told Australia’s Sky News that she is “grateful” her son’s ordeal is “finally coming to an end”.

She said: “This shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy. Many have used my son’s situation to push their own agenda, so I am grateful to those unseen, hardworking people who put Julian’s welfare first.

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

William Booth, writing for the Washington Post, says that “Julian Assange may be about to win, while also having lost”. He writes:

His story of hacking and leaking, flight and imprisonment, courtroom theatrics and now possibly imminent release is inspiring, chilling, depressing – depending on how you view Assange.

The case raised, but never definitively answered, vital questions about what it means to be a journalist, a publisher and a whistleblower.

Was he a non-state actor threatening the national security of the US, as CIA director Mike Pompeo once alleged? Or a hero, as his many supporters believed.

Assange’s defenders have for years argued that his first amendment rights – to publish leaked, embarrassing, newsworthy information about U.S. conduct in overseas wars – were under assault.

Booth, citing Assange’s apparent fragile health in recent appearances, said “he has paid a high price. In his last appearances in a London courtroom, appearing behind a glass wall, he was a physically diminished man. He looked unwell, and he barely spoke.”

Speaking to the media earlier today, Assange’s wife, Stella Assange that his health would be a priority, and that after years in detention he would need time and privacy.

Julian Assange’s court appearance before a US federal judge is expected to take place at 9am local time Wednesday morning (11pm GMT Tuesday night) at the US District Court in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Northern Mariana Islands are a commonwealth of the US, consisting of 14 islands. The territory was captured from Japan during the second world war, and was administrated by the US in the immediate aftermath of the conflict.

Haroon Siddique is the Guardian’s legal affairs correspondent

The prosecuting authority in England and Wales, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), has released this statement in addition to quotes from senior figures in the organisation:

Mr Assange’s proposed plea agreement to settle his extradition case entered the public domain in March this year. Thereafter, the CPS advised the US on how to bring the proposed agreement to fruition which required Mr Assange to appear in person before a US federal judge. The CPS has also worked closely with the National Crime Agency to help put in place the necessary practical arrangements to enable Mr Assange to leave the jurisdiction safely, and in accordance with his wishes and those of the US government.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of England and Wales said a bail hearing for Julian Assange was held in private last Thursday.

PA Media quotes Stephen Parkinson, director of public prosecutions, saying:

Thirteen-and-a-half years and two extradition requests after he was first arrested, Julian Assange left the UK yesterday, following a bail hearing last Thursday, held in private at his request.

I am proud of the way our extradition unit has dealt with this case. They have acted with expertise and skill, under international scrutiny, to provide legal advice to both the Swedish and US authorities.

This case has absorbed considerable time and resource from the criminal justice system over many years. The intended outcome of the plea agreement will be to accomplish the primary objective of delivering justice. It will also save the continuing substantial resource outlay involved in litigating this matter further in England.

The CPS prosecutes criminal cases in England and Wales, and is set up to be a body independent of the police and government. It decides which cases should be prosecuted in England and Wales, and prepares the charges and presents them in court.

John Sheehan, head of extradition at the CPS, said:

This has been a highly complex matter involving advising and representing the Swedish and US authorities. In this period, the CPS’s extradition unit has faced and dealt with novel and challenging legal issues. Mr Assange has also utilised all the legal protections available to him. This has culminated in facilitating the arrangements necessary to enable Mr Assange to leave the UK legally and safely.

Here is an updated report from my colleague Daniel Hurst in Canberra, taking in the latest political reaction to Julian Assange’s release.

Stella Assange has posted to social media to say that her husband, Julian Assange, will “soon take off again and fly into US airspace where he will appear before a US judge”.

She said “Please follow #AssangeJet, we need all eyes on his flight in case something goes wrong.”

The official WikiLeaks account has also posted a new picture of Julian Assange on the plane en route to Bangkok.

This is a view of Assange’s plane during its stopover in Thailand.

Julian Assange’s wife has said that her husband will seek a pardon from the US presidency after making a deal to accept a charge under the US Espionage Act. The WikiLeaks founder is currently en route to Australia after being released from prison the UK.

Assange is reportedly travelling to a hearing on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, where he will be sentenced at 9am local time on Wednesday (11pm GMT on Tuesday).

“The fact that there is a guilty plea, under the Espionage Act in relation to obtaining and disclosing National Defence information is obviously a very serious concern for journalists and national security journalists in general,” she told Reuters.

She told the agency it had been “a rough few years” and that she would not really believe he was free until they were reunited. She said she was still worried something would go wrong. Stella Assange, a lawyer who has worked on his campaign for release for many years, said:

I feel elated. I also feel worried, you know, because I’m so used to this. Anything could happen. I’m worried that until it’s fully signed off, I worry, but it looks like we’ve got there. I’ll really believe it when I have him in front of me and I can take him and hug him and then it will be real you know?

She confirmed that they intend to launch a fundraising campaign, after chartering a flight to take him from the UK to Australia via Thailand and the Northern Mariana Islands had cost $500,000 (£393k / $750k AUD). She told Reuters:

It’s Australian policy that he will have to pay his own return flight so he’s had to charter a flight and so he will basically be in debt when he lands in Canberra. We’re going to launch an emergency fund to try to get this money so that we can pay the Australian government back for his freedom flight.

The couple have two children, who are in Australia with her, but are yet to be told that their father has been released. “All I told them was that there was a big surprise,” she told the BBC earlier, saying the details of Assange’s release needed to be kept under wraps while they were travelling to Australia, and “obviously no one can stop a five and a seven-year-old from, you know, shouting it from the rooftops at any given moment.”

The plea agreement comes months after the US president, Joe Biden, said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange. Assange was indicted during the former president Donald Trump’s administration over the release of hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many press freedom advocates have argued that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.

Julian Assange’s wife Stella Assange has also spoken to PA Media from Australia. She told the news agency that Assange had paid $500,000 (£393k / $750k AUD) to charter a flight from Stansted, and he is being accompanied by a WikiLeaks lawyer, a representative of the Australian government and a medic to check on his health.

She said:

It is hard to believe that Julian has been in prison for so long. It had become normalised. I am grateful to the people who made this possible but I am also angry that it ever came to this. Overall I am elated but I cannot believe it is actually happening until I see Julian. The public climate has shifted and everyone understands that Julian has been the victim. Things are still very sensitive. Julian is paying for the flight so we will launch a fundraising campaign.

Earlier former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said he did not think that Julian Assange would get a “hero’s welcome” when he arrived in Australia. These demonstrators outside the British Consulate in Melbourne have clearly taken a different view.

The editor of WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, has spoken to PA Media. He told the news agency:

This is the result of a long, long process which has been going on for some time. It has been a tough battle, but the focus now is on Julian being reunited with his family. The most important thing is that Julian is free and he is finally able to enjoy the big blue sky. Details of what will happen now will come out in the next 24 hours. His family will be waiting for him in Australia.

Stella Assange has said that the deal between US authorities that has led to the release of Julian Assange will be made public, but that details cannot be released until it is signed by a judge.

Assange is at the moment on a stopover in Bangkok, and is reportedly travelling to a hearing on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, where he will be sentenced at 9am local time on Wednesday (11pm GMT on Tuesday).

Stella Assange told listeners of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme in the UK that “there is an agreement in principle between Julian and the Department of Justice. And that has to be signed off by a judge”. She said she was limited in what she could say until that happens.

She confirmed he would plead guilty to one charge “concerning the Espionage Act and obtaining and disclosing National Defence information”. Asked if it was difficult for her husband to accept the charge, she said “I don’t want to say too much until it has been signed off by a judge. But the important thing here is that the deal involves time served, and that if he signed it, he would be able to walk free.”

She said that the deal had come as a direct result of Assange being granted leave to mount a fresh appeal against his extradition to the US at the high court in London in May.

Stella Assange described the last few days as “a whirlwind of emotions” and said she was “just elated”. She said that the couple’s two young children are in Australia with her, but have not yet been told that their father is to be freed.

She said “he has been in Belmarsh prison for over five years in relation to this outrageous case, which is criminalising the publication and disclosure of information that incriminates states.”

She told listeners that the family have not yet had a chance to discuss plans for the future, saying the priority was “for Julian to get healthy again”. She said “he’s been in a terrible state for five years” and that they wanted “time and privacy” for them to be able to start a new chapter of their lives with their children.

“It’s always been quite extraordinary,” Stella Assange said. “But I’m just so emotional now. You know, this is finally over.”

Julian Assange’s wife has said that the couple’s two children are in Australia with her, waiting for their father to arrive, but have not yet been told that he is to be freed. She told listeners of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that all they have been told is that there is a “big surprise” waiting for them in Australia.

Saying that arrangements for Assange’s release had been “touch and go” over the last 72 hours, she said that she and the two children had packed with barely any notice to head to Australia, flying on Sunday.

She said:

All I told them was that there was a big surprise on the morning that we left. I told them we were heading to the airport. And we got on the plane and I told them that we were going to visit our family, their cousin, their grandfather and so on.

And they still don’t know. We’ve been very careful because obviously no one can stop a five and a seven-year-old from, you know, shouting it from the rooftops at any given moment. And because of the sensitivity around the judge having to sign off the deal we’ve been very careful, just gradually, incrementally telling them information. They are very excited to be in Australia though.

Assange’s children have never seen him outside the confines of Belmarsh prison, she said. She confirmed that they would be told before they met up with their dad.

Stella Assange has said that the priority is for Julian Assange to “get healthy again”, to be in touch with nature and to have “time and privacy”. She said they have not had time to discuss any plans for the future.

More details soon …

Stella Assange has said that the deal made between US authorities and Julian Assange will be made public. She has described it as “a very interesting deal” and said “I can’t really talk about it in detail. I certainly have views about the deal, but I don’t want to jeopardise anything.”

Stella Assange has told listeners to the BBC in the UK that the release of her husband Julian Assange had been “touch and go” over the last couple of days, and that she is limited in what she can say until the “agreement in principle” has been signed off by a judge.

More details soon …

The former minister for foreign affairs of Australia, Alexander Downer, has said he does not think that Julian Assange will receive a hero’s welcome when he reaches Australia. He told listeners of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme in the UK that Assange had done something morally “terrible”. He said:

He has pleaded guilty. That is part of the plea bargain. So what he did was a criminal offence, and it was a terrible thing to do, morally as well, endangering people’s lives in that way. It is just completely inappropriate and I don’t think many Australians have sympathy for it.

Assange’s wife, Stella, is due to give an interview on the radio in the UK shortly. We will bring you the key lines that emerge.

 

Updated: Juni 25, 2024 — 9:38 am

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