Who is Julian Assange and what did he do? A brief history of Australian who will plead guilty for violating US laws - Hindustan Times
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Who is Julian Assange and what did he do? A brief history of Australian who will plead guilty for violating US laws

Jun 25, 2024 10:07 AM IST

Julian Assange is free and has left security prison in United Kingdom after spending 1901 days there.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted bail by a UK Court after he agreed to sign a plea deal with US. Assange will plead guilty to a single count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. national defence documents. Though the deal has not yet been formally finalised.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walks to board a plane at a location given as London, Britain, in this still image from video released JUNE 25, 2024. (@wikileaks)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walks to board a plane at a location given as London, Britain, in this still image from video released JUNE 25, 2024. (@wikileaks)

Who is Julian Assange?

Julian Assange was born in Townsville, Australia, in July 1971. As a teenager, he became known as a skilled computer programmer. In 1995, he pleaded guilty to hacking and was fined. Later, he studied mathematics and physics at Melbourne University.

What is WikiLeaks and what did it do?

In 2006, Assange started WikiLeaks, a website designed to allow whistleblowers leak secret information anonymously. Termed as the ‘dead letter drop’ it gave access to classified documents of governments across the world. It was operated by a transnational collective using servers in countries including Iceland and Sweden.

In US, an army intelligence analyst known as Chelsea Manning downloaded large batches of documents from a classified computer network and uploaded them to WikiLeaks. Eventually she was arrested and identified as the source of the wave of secret American documents. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions. As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people's right to know,” the website posted on X after his release.

Major WikiLeaks Releases

April 2010: WikiLeaks published a classified video showing a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007, which killed several people, including two Reuters journalists

2010: The site released over 90,000 classified U.S. military documents about the war in Afghanistan and about 400,000 secret files on the Iraq war. These were some of the largest security breaches in U.S. military history.

2011:** WikiLeaks released 250,000 secret diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies worldwide. Some were published by major newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian.

2016: They returned in 2016 U.S. presidential election, when it published tens of thousands of emails belonging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman.

A U.S. Senate report in 2020 said Russia had used WikiLeaks to help Republican Donald Trump to victory in that election. Trump dismissed the report as a hoax and Russia always denied interfering in the election.

Assange's Legal Troubles

In November 2010, Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange over allegations of sex crimes. He was arrested in the UK in December 2010. Assange denied the allegations, claiming they were a pretext to extradite him to the U.S. for the WikiLeaks releases.

In 2010, even as Obama government was speculating over charging Assange there was a sexual assault case filed against him in Sweden.

In 2012, in Britain, after he lost his appeal of the Swedish warrant at a UK court he violated bail and went into the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Ecuador granted him asylum and stayed at their embassy for the next seven years.

Assange's arrest and Imprisonment

In April 2019, after Ecuador revoked his asylum, Assange was arrested by British police. In June 2019, the U.S. formally requested his extradition to face charges of hacking U.S. government computers and violating espionage laws. Assange remained in Belmarsh prison in the UK.

In 2021, a British judge ruled that Assange should not be extradited due to his mental health. However, in 2022, the UK approved his extradition. June 24, 2024 the UK court granted him bail after he said he will sign a plea deal with US.

What Next for Julian Assange?

Assange has signed a plea deal with the US government where he has agreed to plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. Which he has already served while in British custody. He will now be in Australia.

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