Julian Assange heads to Australia after US guilty plea

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been released after pleading guilty to violating U.S. espionage law in a deal that allows him to return home to Australia, ending a 14-year legal battle.

Assange, known for WikiLeaks’ release of classified U.S. military documents, spent over five years in a British jail and seven years in asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. In a Saipan court hearing, he admitted to conspiring to obtain and disclose classified documents, citing a belief in First Amendment protections for journalistic activities.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ramona V. Manglona released Assange, who turns 53 on July 3, with credit for time served in the UK. Supporters view him as a champion of free speech, while critics accuse him of endangering U.S. agents.

Assange departed Saipan for Canberra, where he is expected to land around 7:30 p.m. (0930 GMT) today. His father, John Shipton, awaits his return, celebrating his freedom to live an ordinary life.

Australian lawmakers and supporters have expressed concern over the guilty plea’s implications for journalism. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese emphasized the deliberative approach taken by Australia in advocating for Assange’s release.

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