U.S. Authorities Drop Julian Assange Extradition Demand & Strike Plea Deal – Reports

U.S. Authorities Drop Julian Assange Extradition Demand & Strike Plea Deal – Reports

Julian Assange has struck a plea deal with the U.S. authorities which will see him avoid extradition to the U.S. on espionage charges, according to UK media reports.

The Wikileaks founder will instead attend a court hearing in Saipan in the U.S. commonwealth territory of the Northern Mariana Islands at 9 am local time on June 26 in the Pacific Ocean.

Given the time difference and 20-hour flight time, Assange is believed to have already left the UK or be in the process of leaving the country imminently.

The deal ends a 14-year extradition battle with authorities in the U.S. where Assange is wanted on charges related to WikiLeaks’s 2010 internet dump of more than 500,000 secret government, military and diplomatic documents and other reports connected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Per UK media reports, in return for pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information, Assange will be sentenced to time served, 62 months – the same amount of time he has spent in the UK’s high security Belmarsh prison.

He will then be sent to his native Australia.

The operation follows a UK High Court ruling in May allowing Assange to challenge U.S. assurances over how a trial would be conducted in the U.S. and whether his right to free speech would be infringed.

U.S. prosecutors had accused Assange of conspiring with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and then release classified diplomatic cables and military files.

He has always denied the allegations. His supporters have said the leaks were in the public interest.

Assange faced 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer misuse under the U.S Espionage Act. His lawyers feared he faced up to 175 years in prison if convicted, while U.S. authorities said the sentence would be much shorter.

Journalism organizations worldwide said that the prosecution of Assange under the U.S. Espionage Act would be a serious blow to press freedom.

In one of the most high-profile state whistleblowing cases of recent times, Assange has been trying to avoid extradition to the U.S. since 2011.

His battle began in August 2010 after Swedish prosecutors issued an arrest warrant against him following rape and sexual assault accusations, that were later dropped.

He left Sweden for the UK shortly after the allegations. A London court ruled in 2011 he could be extradited back to Sweden.

Assange continued to deny the allegations but said he did not want to travel to Sweden to testify for fear it would result in him being extradited to the U.S. more easily.

He skipped bail and sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden.

He remained in the embassy until April 2019 when Ecuador withdrew his asylum status after he fell out of favor with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, who replaced original protector President Rafael Vicente Correa in 2017.

UK police immediately arrested Assange for breaching bail conditions related to the 2012 Swedish charges, as well as on behalf of the U.S. authorities.

He has spent the last five years in the UK’s high-security Belmarsh prison in southeast London, battling extradition.