Everything we know about Julian Assange’s plea deal, and what happens next

Stella Assange reacts to her husband's release

Source: YouTube

Julian Assange could be just hours away from returning to Australia after a series of legal battles that has lasted almost 14 years.

Assange’s widely tracked plane touched down about 6.15am on Wednesday morning (AEDT) on a US island in the Pacific Ocean.

WikiLeaks confirmed he had arrived on US territory at Saipan Island to formalise the plea deal “that should never have had to happen”.

On Wednesday morning, Assange will plead guilty to one count under the US Espionage Act.

The remainder of the charges against him will be dropped and the request for his extradition to the US withdrawn.

He had previously faced extradition proceedings from Sweden and the US that led to him being holed up in London’s Ecuadorian embassy for more than six years and imprisoned for more than five.

What is the Assange plea deal?

Documents filed in the US Federal Court in Saipan, in the US protectorate of the Northern Mariana Islands, show Assange will plead guilty to one count under the US Espionage Act

On Tuesday (Australian time), he was freed on bail from London’s Belmarsh Prison by the UK High Court.

Assange will be sentenced to 62 months in prison when he pleads guilty in Saipan. But given the time he’s already served in Belmarsh, he will effectively be free.

Julian Assange arrived on US territory in the Pacific on Wednesday morning. Photo: X (WikiLeaks)

What happens next?

Saipan officials told the ABC that, as Townsville-born Assange intended to plead guilty, they expected him to appear in court in person on Wednesday.

He will be free to return to Australia immediately following the hearing.

Thai officials said on Tuesday that Assange’s plane was expected to land in Bangkok to refuel and take on more water. It was then expected to depart at 9pm local time (midnight AEST).

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed on Tuesday that UK High Commissioner Stephen Smith was travelling with Assange from Britain.

US Ambassador Kevin Rudd had also provided “important assistance” amid the “crucial and delicate” American legal proceedings, Albanese told Parliament.

“Regardless of the views that people have about Julian Assange and his activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” he said.

“We have engaged and advocated Australia’s interest using all appropriate channels to support a positive outcome, and I have done that since very early on in my prime ministership. I will have more to say when these legal proceedings have concluded, which I hope will be very soon.”

Although Assange will no longer face prison or outstanding US criminal proceedings, his guilty plea will likely have lasting implications.

Holly Cullen, adjunct professor in law at the University of Western Australia, said Assange would likely find it difficult to travel in future, given his serious criminal conviction.

“This is significant as it’s a national security offence for which he’s served more than five years behind bars,” Cullen said.

“This will place limitations on his future travel, including to the US, which is unlikely to grant him a visa.”

Cullen said the travel ban might also extend to Britain, where Assange has also been convicted of absconding from bail, for which he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.

However, she said it was entirely possible Assange could be pardoned by the US president, “whomever it ends up being after the US election in November”.

“The US allows much more discretion than most in the use of pardons,” she said.

Why Saipan for the hearing?

The court in Saipan was chosen because of Assange’s opposition to travelling to the continental US, as well as its proximity to Australia.

Saipan was also considered an ideal location for Assange’s court date due to its proximity to Australia.

With a population of just 55,650 people, about 44,000 of whom live in Saipan, the Northern Mariana Islands is a remote unincorporated territory and commonwealth of the US consisting of 14 islands in the north-western Pacific Ocean.

The islands were United Nations trust territories under American administration until 1986, when they were incorporated as a US territory.

Residents of Northern Mariana Islands have US citizenship and are administered by a governor.

Julian Assange Timeline

  • July 1971 – Assange is born in Townsville to parents involved in theatre. As a teenager, he gains a reputation as a computer programmer. In 1995, he is fined for computer hacking but avoids prison
  • 2006 – Assange establishes WikiLeaks, creating an internet-based “dead letter drop” for leakers of classified or sensitive information
  • April 5, 2010 – WikiLeaks releases leaked video from a US helicopter showing an air strike that killed civilians in Baghdad
  • July 25, 2010 – WikiLeaks releases more than 91,000 documents, mostly secret US military reports about the Afghanistan war
  • October 2010 – WikiLeaks releases 400,000 classified military files chronicling the Iraq war. The next month, it releases thousands of US diplomatic cables, including candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of security threats
  • November 18, 2010 – A Swedish court orders Assange’s arrest on sex crime allegations, which he denies. He is arrested in Britain the next month on a European arrest warrant but freed on bail
  • February 2011 – London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court orders Assange’s extradition to Sweden. He appeals
  • June 14, 2012 – The British Supreme Court rejects Assange’s final appeal. Five days later, he takes refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London and seeks political asylum. Ecuador grants it
  • May 19, 2017 – Swedish prosecutors discontinue their investigation, saying it is impossible to proceed while Assange is in the Ecuadorean embassy
  • April 11, 2019 – After Ecuador revokes his political asylum, Assange is carried out of the embassy and arrested. On May 1, a British court sentences him to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail
  • May 13, 2019 – Swedish prosecutors reopen their investigation and say they will seek Assange’s extradition
  • June 11, 2019 – The US Justice Department formally asks Britain to extradite Assange to the US to face charges that he conspired to hack US government computers and violated an espionage law
  • November 19, 2019 – Swedish prosecutors drop their investigation, saying the evidence is not strong enough to bring charges, in part because of the passage of time
  • February 21, 2020 – A London court begins the first part of extradition hearings
  • January 4, 2021 – A British judge rules that Assange should not be extradited to the US to face criminal charges, saying his mental health problems mean he would be at risk of suicide
  • December 10, 2021 – The US wins an appeal against the ruling after a judge says he is satisfied with US assurances about the conditions of Assange’s detention
  • March 14, 2022 – Britain’s Supreme Court denies Assange permission to appeal against the decision to extradite him to the US
  • March 23, 2022 – Assange marries his long-term partner Stella Moris, the mother of his two children fathered inside the Ecuadorean embassy
  • June 17, 2022 – Britain orders Assange’s extradition to the US, prompting him to appeal
  • June 2023 – Judge at London’s High Court rules Assange has no legal grounds to appeal
  • February 20, 2024 – Assange launches what his supporters say will be his final attempt to prevent extradition
  • March 26, 2024 – The extradition is put on hold when the court says the US must provide assurances that Assange will not face a potential death penalty
  • May 20, 2024 – The High Court gives Assange permission to launch a full appeal against his extradition on grounds that, as a foreign national on trial, he might not be able to rely on the First Amendment right to free speech that US citizens enjoy
  • June 24, 2024 – The US Justice Department and Assange reveal a deal in which he will plead guilty to one criminal count and be sentenced to time served.
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