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Assange walks free after pleading guilty to breach of top-secret information


Security detail manages the court entrance as Juliuan Assange with Australian Ambassador Kevin Rudd get ready to enter the court. Contributed photo

 

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan and Brian Manabat

 

Saipan— WikiLeaks founder Julian P. Assange today pleaded guilty to his role in the breach of classified documents relating to U.S. wars in Iran and Afghanistan.


Assange, 52, entered his plea before Federal Judge Ramona Manglona of the U.S. District Court of the Northern Marianas, fulfilling his plea deal with the U.S. Department of Justice and ending his days in prison.


After accepting the plea agreement, Manglona sentenced Assange to time served.


“It appears that your 62 months imprisonment is fair and reasonable,” Manglona told Assange, 52. “You will be able to walk out of this courtroom a free man.”


Looking pensive, Assange stood before the lectern to hear the judge read the sentence. His lawyers, Barry Pollack and Richard Miller, stood next to him.


Assange has been convicted of a single charge of conspiring with Chelsea Manning, then a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, to obtain and disclose top-secret documents relating to the national defense in violation of the Espionage Act.


Julian Assange, left, land his attorney, Barry Pollack, leave the court house in Gualo Rai, Saipan on Tuesday morning. Photo courtesy of Marianas Variety/Brian Manabat

“In total, Manning downloaded four nearly complete U.S. government databases that contained, among other things, approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activity reports, 800 Joint Task Force Guantanamo detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables,” the DOJ said in a press release after the court proceedings concluded.

 

"It should be protected by the First Amendment," Assange told the court.


 Assange was detained in the Belmarsh maximum security jail in UK for more than five years, while contesting extradition. As part of the plea agreement, Assange was flown to Saipan for the court proceedings as he refused to travel to the mainland U.S.


The DOJ noted Saipan’s proximity to Australia. Assange is an Australian citizen.

Accompanied by Australian Ambassador Kevin Rudd and longtime attorney Jennifer Robinson, Assange is heading home and is banned from returning to the U.S.


All proceedings were squeezed into a few hours. It began with Assange's initial appearance, followed by arraignment and plea hearing and concluded with sentencing.

According to DOJ, the guilty plea capped a criminal case that dates back to March 2018 when Assange was first indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia.


Superseding indictments racked up the charges, accusing him of conspiring with Manning to obtain classified information and using a government computer to illegally download hundreds of thousands of classified documents, which were subsequently published on his whistleblower website.


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“Beginning in late 2009, Assange and WikiLeaks actively solicited United States classified information, including by publishing a list of Most Wanted Leaks that sought, among other things, bulk classified documents,” DOJ said.


Court documents alleged that Assange “actively solicited and recruited people” who had access to classified information and employed hackers to execute “computer network intrusions.”


“Unlike news organizations that published redacted versions of some of the classified documents that Assange obtained from Manning and then shared with those organizations, Assange and WikiLeaks disclosed many of the raw classified documents without removing any personally identifying information,” DOJ said.


In a press conference after the sentencing, Assange’s defense attorney Barry Pollack said, “The prosecution of Julian Assange was unprecedented. In the 100 years of the Espionage Act, it was never used by the United States to prosecute a publisher or journalist like Mr. Assange.”


Pollack said his client fought tremendously for “free speech, freedom of the press, and to ensure that the American public and the world community gets truthful and newsworthy information.”


Jennifer Robinson, another defense attorney, told reporters that it was a huge relief that Assange "can now return to Australia, free, and reunited with his family."


“And to everyone who believed in free speech around the world, who supported Julian, it has been a global movement behind Julian, to protect free speech,” Robinson added. 





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