WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleads guilty to espionage

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleads guilty to espionage

Assange pleads guilty to felony charge of violating Espionage Act during appearance at courthouse in US territory of Saipan

By Servet Gunerigok

WASHINGTON (AA) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange pleaded guilty to a felony charge, ending a years-long stalemate with the US, a report said Tuesday.

Accused of obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010, Assange appeared in a courtroom on the US Pacific island territory of Saipan in the Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific Ocean near his native Australia.

Assange pleaded guilty to a felony charge of violating the Espionage Act, the Washington Post reported.

While entering the courtroom in a black suit, the WikiLeaks founder did not respond to reporters' questions.

According to the Post, the judge questioned the rationale behind filing the case in Saipan. In response, US attorney Matthew McKenzie explained that the island's proximity to Assange's home country of Australia would facilitate his return home "shortly after this proceeding."

The Post also reported that Assange defended himself in court by describing himself as a journalist who he said should be protected by the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, Assange is crowdfunding the cost of his repatriation to Australia.

A campaign was launched to pay the cost of the flights to his country.

"Julian Assange has embarked on flight VJT199 to Saipan. If all goes well, it will bring him to freedom in Australia. But the flight comes at an enormous cost: Julian will owe USD 520,000, which he is obligated to pay back to the Australian government for the charter flight to Saipan and onward to Australia," said the campaign.

So far, £263,395 ($334,142) has been raised. He is expected to land in Canberra later in the day.

Assange was released Monday from the Belmarsh maximum security prison following bail by the High Court in London before boarding a flight at Stansted Airport at 5 p.m. local time.

The plane carrying Assange landed Tuesday at Don Mueang International Airport in the Thai capital Bangkok to refuel before heading to Saipan.

Assange rose to fame in the 2010s for leaking classified US documents on the internet, gaining him international accolades and detractors when he exposed sensitive American diplomatic correspondence and military records, including a video of a 2007 US airstrike in Baghdad that killed several people, including two Reuters journalists.

Assange has doggedly opposed extradition to the US and spent seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in a bid to prevent the handover.

He was ejected from the diplomatic compound in 2019 and has spent the last five years in a British prison as he fought an extradition order to the US.

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