Julian Assange to be released from prison after plea deal with U.S.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be freed after pleading guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department. File photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be freed after pleading guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department. File photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE

June 24 (UPI) -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be freed from prison in Britain when he pleads guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department, according to court papers filed late Monday.

On Wednesday, Assange is scheduled to appear in the federal court in the Mariana Islands, which is a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific.

He will plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, the Justice Department said in a letter filed in court. It was written by Justice Department official Matthew McKenzie to District Judge Ramona Manglona of the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands

Prosecutors have agreed to a 62-month sentence, which he has already served in a high-security prison near London while fighting to avoid extradition to the United States to face charges.

He had spent seven years hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Swedish authorities sought his arrest on rape allegations. He then was locked up in Britain.

Supporters of Julian Assange protest in Britain against his extradition to the United States. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
Supporters of Julian Assange protest in Britain against his extradition to the United States. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI

Assange is expected to return to his native Australia after his plea and sentencing, which is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Saipan, the largest island in the Mariana Islands. The judge still needs to sign off on the plea.

Last month, a British court ruled that Assange had the right to appeal his final challenge against extradition to the United States.

In 2019, the Justice Department's indictment was unsealed, accusing Assange of encouraging and helping U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published in 2010. Assange was accused of damaging national security by publishing documents that harmed the United States and its allies, and aided its adversaries.

U.S. President Joe Biden had said he was considering a request from Australia to drop U.S. efforts to prosecute Assange.

Assange's website published Democratic Party emails that prosecutors say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives. He was never charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.