UK releases Wikileaks founder after more than 5 years in prison

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Julian Assange, the journalist who founded the website Wikileaks, was released yesterday, June 24, after 1,901 days in a United Kingdom prison. Assange was detained by the UK at the behest of the US government, which filed 17 charges against him for violating the US Espionage Act. Assange is an Australian citizen.

After more than five years in prison, Assange entered into a compromise agreement with the US Justice Department, in which he will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to obtain and disclose secret US national defense documents. The other case will be dismissed. This charge carries a penalty of 62 months in prison, which is equivalent to the length of time he has been in prison in the UK. The hearing will be held in a court in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. After the hearing, he will go straight to Australia, where his family is located.

The US government filed charges against Assange in 2006 by the website Wikileaks, an online platform where whistleblowers can disclose and post classified materials such as documents and videos without making their identities public.

In 2010, Wikileaks released thousands of classified or secret documents of the US which revealed many of its war crimes in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wikileaks also released thousands of diplomatic cables or communications of US embassies in various countries that contain sensitive communications of the US State Department and show its interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

International groups defending civil rights and press freedom welcomed Assange’s release. However, they warned of the impact of Assange’s arrest on the free press.

“While we welcome the end of his detention, the US’ pursuit of Assange set a harmful legal precedent by opening the door for journalists to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act if they receive classified material from sources. This should never have been the case,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

Also, the implications of Assange’s extradition to the US to stand trial are huge. If so, the US could extradite any journalist around the world, regardless of his nationality, and prosecute him under US laws should he or she publishes information from any classified US document.

AB: UK releases Wikileaks founder after more than 5 years in prison