WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ‘rediscovering life’ after 14 years

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Julian Assange, WikiLeaks

After a prolonged period of incarceration and an intense legal battle, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has finally tasted freedom. Landing in Canberra, Australia, Assange’s arrival marks the end of a tumultuous 14-year ordeal with the US Department of Justice. The 52-year-old’s release, which came after pleading guilty to a single count of revealing military secrets in a US Pacific island court, has been a moment of both relief and reflection for him and his family.

Julian Assange’s legal struggle has been one of the most high-profile cases in recent history. He spent over five years in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison fighting extradition to the United States on charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. Before that, he had taken refuge for seven years in Ecuador’s London embassy to escape extradition to Sweden over sexual assault charges, which were eventually dropped. The legal wrangling and years in confinement have undeniably taken a toll on Julian Assange, both physically and mentally.

During his time in the embassy, Julian Assange lived in a small space without access to natural light and faced constant surveillance. The impact on his health was severe, with reports of chronic lung conditions, anxiety, and depression. His supporters argued that his treatment amounted to psychological torture.

Stella Assange, Julian’s wife, spoke to reporters with palpable emotion, expressing the family’s need for privacy and time to recuperate. “He’s just savoring freedom for the first time in 14 years. He needs time to rest and recover. And he is just rediscovering normal life. And he needs space to do that,” she stated. The Assange family, including their two young children, have been profoundly affected by his absence and the uncertainty surrounding his fate.

For Julian Assange, the immediate future is about rediscovery and healing. Stella shared that he plans to engage in simple pleasures like swimming in the ocean, sleeping in a real bed, and enjoying real food. These activities, which many take for granted, are a newfound luxury for Assange. His return home, however, was a quiet affair; he did not attend the press conference upon his arrival, highlighting the need for solitude and family time.

Stella mentioned that their children were staying elsewhere and were asleep when Julian Assange landed. However, she had sent her husband a heartwarming video of their children “jumping on the sofa” in excitement for his return. The Assange family is yet to discuss their future plans in detail, but the focus is currently on reuniting and re-establishing a sense of normalcy.

Julian Assange’s release was part of a plea deal where he was sentenced to time already served, allowing him to walk free. His legal team continues to argue that the US Justice Department’s pursuit of Julian Assange sets a dangerous precedent for journalism. Barry Pollack, Assange’s US trial lawyer, emphasized the need for a presidential pardon, asserting, “The president of the United States has absolute pardon power. President Biden or any subsequent president can, and in my mind should, issue a pardon to Julian Assange.”

Stella Assange echoed this sentiment, stating that her husband had pleaded “guilty to committing journalism,” highlighting the case’s potential to criminalize journalistic activities. Julian’s work with WikiLeaks involved publishing hundreds of thousands of confidential US documents, including a notable 2007 video showing civilians being killed by fire from a US helicopter gunship in Iraq. These publications made Julian Assange a hero to free speech advocates but a villain to those who believed he endangered US security and intelligence sources.

Julian Assange’s actions have always been polarizing. On one hand, he is celebrated as a champion of transparency and free speech. On the other, he is condemned for allegedly putting lives at risk. The US State Department maintains that the documents published by WikiLeaks exposed individuals working with the US government, including opposition leaders and human rights activists, thereby endangering their lives.

“The documents they published gave identifying information of individuals who were in contact with the State Department,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “That included opposition leaders, human rights activists around the world — whose positions were put in some danger.”

Julian Assange’s indictment by a US federal grand jury in 2019 included 18 counts stemming from WikiLeaks’ publication of national security documents. The charges against him included conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and obtaining and disclosing national defense information without authorization. Despite his plea deal and release, the US Justice Department has prohibited Assange from returning to the United States without permission, ensuring that his movements and activities remain under scrutiny.

The implications of Julian Assange’s case for journalism are profound. His supporters argue that his prosecution under the Espionage Act threatens investigative journalism and the role of journalists in holding governments accountable. The fear is that if journalists can be prosecuted for publishing truthful information about government wrongdoing, it could lead to a chilling effect on press freedom.

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, has been a vocal critic of Julian Assange’s treatment, describing it as a coordinated campaign to discredit and silence him. Melzer has warned that Assange’s case sets a dangerous precedent for the prosecution of journalists and whistleblowers worldwide.

Julian Assange’s story is a complex narrative of courage, controversy, and the relentless pursuit of truth. It raises important questions about the balance between national security and the public’s right to know, the role of journalists in modern society, and the lengths to which governments will go to protect their secrets. Assange’s actions have sparked debates about transparency, the ethics of whistleblowing, and the responsibilities of the media.

Julian Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010 when WikiLeaks published a series of leaks provided by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The leaks included the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diary, and a trove of US diplomatic cables. These documents exposed numerous instances of misconduct, including war crimes and corruption, sparking international controversy.

The future for Julian Assange remains uncertain. While he is now free, the shadow of his past actions and the ongoing political implications linger. For now, Julian is focused on regaining his health and reconnecting with his family. His wife, Stella, stands by him, advocating for his right to freedom and the protection of journalistic integrity.

The legal and political battles are far from over. Assange’s supporters continue to push for a presidential pardon, while his detractors remain steadfast in their belief that his actions endangered lives. The broader implications of Julian’s case will continue to resonate, influencing discussions about press freedom, government transparency, and the role of whistleblowers in democratic societies.

As Julian Assange begins this new chapter, the world watches closely, reflecting on the broader implications of his journey and what it means for the future of journalism. His story serves as a reminder of the complex interplay between power, accountability, and the right to know, and will undoubtedly shape the discourse on these issues for years to come.

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