Julian Assange starts journey to freedom

Julian Assange starts journey to freedom
ROAD TO FREEDOM. Julian Assange speaks to the media outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in this file photo taken on May 19, 2017. Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the United States Justice Department that will free him from prison and resolve a long-running legal saga over the publication of a trove of classified documents. Associated Press

BANGKOK — A plane believed to be carrying Julian Assange landed Tuesday in Bangkok, as the WikiLeaks founder was on his way to enter a plea deal with the United States Government that will free him and resolve the legal case that spanned years and continents over the publication of a trove of classified documents.

Chartered flight VJT199 landed after noon at Don Mueang International Airport, north of the Thai capital.

Airport officials told The Associated Press the plane was only in Bangkok for refueling and was scheduled to depart Tuesday evening for Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific, where he will appear in court Wednesday morning local time.

He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, according to the US Justice Department in a letter filed in court.

Assange is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing. The hearing is taking place in Saipan because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.

The guilty plea, which must be approved by a judge, brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and to the US Government’s years-long pursuit of a publisher whose hugely popular secret-sharing website made him a cause célèbre among many press freedom advocates who said he acted as a journalist to expose US military wrongdoing.

Investigators, by contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke laws meant to protect sensitive information and put the country’s national security at risk.

Attorneys for Assange haven’t responded to requests for comment.

In a statement posted on X, WikiLeaks said Assange boarded a plane and departed Monday after leaving the British prison where he has spent the last five years.

WikiLeaks applauded the announcement of the deal, saying it was grateful for “all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom.”

“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions. As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know,” WikiLeaks said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been lobbying for the United States to end its prosecution of Assange, told Parliament that an Australian envoy had flown with Assange from London.

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

The deal ensures Assange will admit guilt while also sparing him from additional prison time. / AP

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