Assange lands in Australia after pleading guilty in US court

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hugs his wife, Stella Assange, after arriving at Canberra Airport in Canberra on June 26, 2024. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — Julian Assange arrived on Wednesday in his native Australia, with the WikiLeaks founder stepping off the plane in Canberra and hugging his wife, Stella.

“Touchdown!” WikiLeaks said on social media. “After enduring nearly 14 years of arbitrary detention in the UK, 5 years in maximum security prison, for his groundbreaking publishing work with WikiLeaks, Julian Assange has arrived home on Australian soil.”

Assange waved to a gathered crowd as he walked along the tarmac. He paused and offered a double thumbs up before entering a terminal building.

Assange had pleaded guilty to a single felony in a U.S. court in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday and left a free man.

Assange’s release follows a yearslong fight by the U.S. government to extradite him on charges related to documents published by WikiLeaks in 2010.

U.S. prosecutors had accused Assange of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, who, as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, leaked to Assange hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including about 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables.

The Justice Department said Monday it had reached an agreement with Assange to plead guilty to a single felony count of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified information.

Anthony Albanese, the Australian prime minister, who had advocated for the charges to be dropped, said in a statement on Wednesday that he’d spoken with Assange, welcoming him home during a phone call.

Albanese also thanked the United States and United Kingdom for making Assange’s return possible.

“As Prime Minister, I have been clear — regardless of what you think of his activities, Mr. Assange’s case had dragged on for too long,” he said. “I have clearly and consistently — at every opportunity and at every level — advocated for Mr Assange’s case to be concluded.”

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