Julian Assange lands on Australian soil to reunite with wife and sons

World News

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) raises his fist after arriving at Canberra Airport. Image: Getty
Key Takeaways
  • Assange pleaded guilty to one charge of espionage in the Saipan US District Court and was sentenced to time served.
  • The 52-year-old touched down in Canberra on Wednesday night.
  • Stella Assange – a lawyer and Assange’s wife – was there waiting for him.
  • She has asked for donations to cover the $782,000 flight for which he has to reimburse the Australian government.
  • Prior to boarding the plane at Stansted Airport in London, Assange spent 1,901 days in Belmarsh Prison in the UK. He was in asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy from 2012 to 2019.
  • Assange can not enter the US again without permission from the government.

Assange, 52, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to obtain and disclose national defence information at the US District Court in Saipan. The charge carried a maximum penalty of 10-years in prison.

The Australian national was sentenced to time served and left the courthouse a free man. He arrived in Canberra at 7.37pm on a Vistajet aircraft. The journey from Saipan to Canberra took 6 and a half hours.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) hugs his wife Stella Assange (centre L) after arriving at Canberra Airport in Canberra on June 26, 2024, after he pleaded guilty at a US court in Saipan to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate US national defence information. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange returned home to Australia to start life as a free man June 26 after admitting he revealed US defence secrets in a deal that unlocked the door to his London prison cell. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST / AFP) (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

“Working as a journalist I encouraged my source to provide information that was said to be classified in order to publish that information,” Assange told the Judge in the Saipan courthouse.

“I believed the First Amendment protected that activity. I believe the First Amendment and the Espionage Act are in contradiction.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made a statement describing the negotiations for Assange’s release as ‘crucial’ and ‘delicate.’

“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There’s nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” Albanese says.

“I received a message from the US ambassador that they too are pleased it has been resolved. The details of the plea deal have been worked on for a period of time. This was always going to be something that required discussion with the Department of Justice.”

The journey from Saipan to Canberra will take 6 hours and 38 minutes, according to FlightAware. The flight took off at 1:01 pm and is expected to land in Canberra at 7:39pm. Image: FlightAware
Assange needs permission to return to US

The DOJ issued a statement confirming that Assange can not return to the United States without permission from the US government.

“At today’s proceeding, Assange admitted to his role in the conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act and received a court-imposed 62-month time-served sentence, reflecting the time he served in U.K. prison as a result of the U.S. charges. Following the imposition of sentence, he will depart the United States for his native Australia,” the DOJ statement reads.

Prior to boarding the plane at Stansted Airport in London, Assange spent 1,901 days in Belmarsh Prison in the UK. He was in asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy from 2012 to 2019.

A plane believed to be carrying WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange lands at the Saipan International Airport on June 26, 2024 in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. Image: Getty

Stella Assange, Julian’s wife and the mother of his two young boys, issued a statement on Instagram asking for donations to cover the cost of the private jet, that must be paid back to the Australian government.

“Julian’s travel to freedom comes at a massive cost: Julian will owe USD 520,000 which he is obligated to pay back to the Australian government for charter Flight VJ199. He was not permitted to fly commercial airlines or routes to Saipan and onward to Australia. Any contribution big or small is much appreciated.⁠,” Stella Assange posted on Instagram.

Assange was accompanied on the flight to Saipan by Australian High Commissioner to the UK, Stephen Smith, and Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson of UK firm Doughty Street Chambers. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd walked into the Saipan courthouse with Assange. Rudd is Australia’s Ambassador to the US.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at the United States Courthouse where he is expected to enter a guilty plea to an espionage charge ahead of his expected release on June 26, 2024. Image: Getty

“Julian won’t be safe until he lands in Australia. Please keep tracking his flight,” Stella Assange said in a message on Twitter.

Assange travelled on a Bombardier Global Express (twin-engine jet) owned by Vistajet, according to Flightaware. He boarded the private jet at Stansted Airport in the UK at 6.09pm on Monday London time, and flew 12 hours and 20 minutes to Bangkok.

From Bangkok, Assange flew 5 hours and 55 minutes to Saipan, a US territory in the Western Pacific Ocean, approximately 3000 km north of the northern tip of Australia.

Instagram: @stellaassange

Court documents were lodged yesterday in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, where Saipan is located.

WikiLeaks released a statement today noting Assange’s return to Australia.

“After more than five years in a 2×3 metre cell, isolated 23 hours a day, he will soon reunite with his wife Stella Assange, and their children, who have only known their father from behind bars. As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom,” WikiLeaks posted to Twitter.

X: @wikileaks

Assange’s father, John Shipton, told ABC radio “it looks as if Julian will be free to come back to Australia.”

“My many thanks and congratulations to all of his supporters in Australia that made that possible, and of course the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese,” Shipton said.

Stella Assange was in Sydney on Monday evening and spoke to her husband on a video call near the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The lawyer grew up in Africa and Europe. She studied politics and law in the UK and joined Assange’s legal team in 2011. The couple were married in the Belmarsh prison in 2022.

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