WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange signs agreement with the USA

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has reached a deal with the US government, ending a years-long international saga about his handling of state secrets.

According to newly filed court documents, Assange is preparing to plead guilty this week in a U.S. federal court in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. Commonwealth in the Pacific, to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disclose information related to national defense.

Under the terms of the agreement, Assange faces a prison sentence of 62 months, equal to the time he has already served in Britain's Belmarsh prison while fighting extradition to the US. He is expected to be released after trial later this week and can return to his native Australia.

Australian politicians have been lobbying the Biden administration for years to drop the criminal proceedings. President Biden confirmed at a press conference in April that American authorities were “considering” such a step.

A federal grand jury in Virginia indicted Assange in 2019 on charges of espionage and computer misuse. The Justice Department described it as one of the largest cases of compromise of classified information in U.S. history.

The indictment accuses Assange of working with then-soldier Chelsea Manning to obtain and publish classified reports on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables. Prosecutors say Assange published these materials on his website, WikiLeaks, without properly scrubbing them of sensitive information, putting whistleblowers and others at grave risk.

“No responsible actor, journalist or anyone else, would intentionally publish the names of people they know to be confidential human sources in a war zone, thereby exposing them to the greatest danger,” former Deputy Attorney General John Demers said at the time of the indictment.

Manning was arrested in 2010 and served seven years in prison before President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.

Assange's case has drawn support from human rights and journalism groups, including Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, who fear that Assange's Espionage Act case could set a precedent for charging journalists with crimes against national security.

His interactions with the justice system were complicated. Assange spent seven years in hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Swedish officials accused him of sexual assault – an arrangement that seemed to frustrate both Assange and his hosts.

Swedish police eventually withdrew the charges, but British authorities subsequently took him into custody for allegedly breaching bail conditions.

The US government then attempted to extradite him, a process that dragged through the courts for years. The deal averted further extradition proceedings, which were scheduled to begin in early July.

Copyright: NPR

Anna Harden

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