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Julian Assange lands in Bangkok on long journey home

Julian Assange leaves Britain

Source: WikiLeaks

The plane carrying WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has landed in Bangkok on its way to his sentencing in a remote US territory.

Pictures circulating on social media on Tuesday afternoon showed the VistaJet plane with Assange on board landing at Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport at 11.50am local time (2.50pm AEST).

It was expected to spend several hours there to refuel and take on more provisions. It will then depart about 9pm (local time) for the Northern Mariana Islands, where Assange has a court date early on Wednesday.

US prosecutors said on Tuesday that Assange, 52, was expected to plead guilty to violating US espionage law, after striking a deal that reportedly will allow him to return home to Australia.

Prosecutors said in court papers that Assange had agreed to plead guilty to one criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents, according to filings in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

Assange will be sentenced at a hearing on the island of Saipan at 9am local time on Wednesday. Local officials have told the ABC that because of his guilty plea, Assange must appear in court in person.

The remote islands are in the same time zone as Australia’s eastern states. They have a population of less than 45,000, and are in the western Pacific about 5000 kilometres north of Australia.

Assange is expected to return to Australia after Wednesday’s hearing.

marian islands julian assange

The Northern Mariana Islands, in the western Pacific Ocean. Image: Google Maps

Less than an hour after news of the plea deal emerged on Tuesday (AEST), footage posted online by WikiLeaks showed Assange leaving London’s Belmarsh prison on bail and departing Britain from Stansted Airport.

WikiLeaks said it was filmed on Monday afternoon (local time).

“Julian Assange is free,” it said in a WikiLeaks post on X.

“He left Belmarsh maximum-security prison on the morning of 24 June, after having spent 1901 days there. He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted Airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.”

Assange’s wife Stella also confirmed his release in a post with a similar message.

Asked in Parliament on Tuesday if Assange was coming home, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the ongoing legal proceedings in the US were “crucial and delicate”.

“I will say the Australian government has continued to provide consular assistance to Julian Assange through the UK High Commissioner, Stephen Smith, who travelled with Julian
Assange when he left the UK, and US Ambassador Kevin Rudd, who is also providing important assistance,” he said.

“I have been a very clear, as both the Labor leader in opposition but also as Prime Minister, that 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 he would have more to say once the legal procedures had concluded – “which I hope will be very soon”.

Ahead of confirmation of the plea deal, Labor MP Julian Hill said no one should judge Assange for “accepting a deal to get the hell out of there and come home. His health is fragile”.

“Whatever you think of Assange, he is an Australian and enough is enough,” he told The Guardian.

“The Prime Minister deserves enormous personal credit for his judgment and determination, never giving up in pursuing resolution of this case. Let’s hope for the best now.”

Shadow foreign minister Simon Birmingham welcomed the update.

“We have consistently said that the US and UK justice systems should be respected. We welcome the fact that Mr Assange’s decision to plead guilty will bring this long running saga to an end,” he said.

WikiLeaks in 2010 released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history – along with swaths of diplomatic cables.

Assange was indicted during former US president Donald Trump’s administration over WikiLeaks’ mass release of secret US documents, which were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former US military intelligence analyst who was also prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

The trove of more than 700,000 documents included diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts such as a 2007 video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff. That video was released in 2010.

The charges against Assange sparked outrage among his many global supporters. They have long argued that, as the publisher of WikiLeaks, Assange should not face charges typically used against federal government employees who steal or leak information.

Many press freedom advocates have argued that criminally charging Assange represents a threat to free speech.

Assange was first arrested in Britain in 2010 on a European arrest warrant after Swedish authorities said they wanted to question him over sex-crime allegations that were later dropped.

He fled to Ecuador’s embassy, where he remained for seven years, to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was dragged out of the embassy in 2019 and jailed for skipping bail.

He has been in Belmarsh jail since, and has spent the past five years fighting extradition to the US.

In Belmarsh, Assange married his partner Stella with whom he had two children while he was holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy.

-with AAP

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