IBAHRI welcomes Julian Assange’s release from prison with US plea deal, ending lengthy legal battle

Thursday 27 June 2024

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has welcomed Australia’s WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being freed from prison and a 14-year legal battle that saw the United States government seek to prosecute him under its Espionage Act for publishing thousands of leaked government documents in 2010.

On 24 June 2024, after Mr Assange’s legal team negotiated a guilty plea arrangement with the US Department of Justice, whereby he admitted guilt on one out of the 18 charges he faced in exchange for dropping the remaining charges, Mr Assange was released from the UK’s high-security Belmarsh prison and boarded a plane to Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands – an American territory in the Pacific.

At a hearing in Saipan, on 26 June 2024, Presiding District Judge Ramona Villagomez Manglona sentenced Mr Assange to five years and two months, equivalent to the period of time he spent in prison in the United Kingdom opposing his extradition to the United States. Noting the time spent in detention, Judge Magnola remarked, ‘With this pronouncement, it appears that you will be able to walk out of this courtroom a free man’. Following the sentencing, the US Department of Justice released a statement that read, ‘Pursuant to the plea agreement, Assange is prohibited from returning to the United States without permission.’

In an interview, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Dr Alice Jill Edwards, remarked that the plea deal with the US that has led to the release of Julian Assange ‘is a very good outcome’. When questioned on the human rights implications of the result, Ms Edwards remarked, ‘Governments are entitled to operate to a certain level of secrecy […] however, that level of confidentiality they enjoy in order to protect the public and national security does not extend to revelations of war crimes or any other human rights violations. Democratic countries are accountable and must be held accountable by their people, and that requires press freedoms and journalistic scrutiny. These are the pillars of democracy’.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc commented: ‘Time and time again the IBAHRI has reiterated the necessity to uphold the fundamental right to free expression and protect the indispensable role of a free, independent media as the watchdogs of democratic societies and hold power to account. Whilst IBAHRI welcomes this outcome, we cannot ignore the fact these charges should never have been brought by the United States. All charges should have been dropped by the US and Julian Assange should have been allowed to walk away a free man without having to agree to a plea deal, in the absence of which a sentence could have been imposed of almost two centuries. It is undeniable that what has transpired has the gravest of implications on investigative journalism globally. We urge the US, the UK and all states to take actions to facilitate a safe and enabling environment for the media, without fear of harassment, intimidation or the threat of lawfare and to respect the right to collect, receive and ultimately publish information deemed to be in the public interest.’

Ms Ramberg added: ‘I reiterate that the relentless and vigorous pursuit of Mr Assange over more than a decade has not been matched with the same ardent effort to investigate those in the US military allegedly responsible for potential war crimes that he placed in the public domain – seemingly causing the premature deaths of Afghan and Iraqi civilians. An independent enquiry composed of international actors is essential. For if international law is to be observed and respected then it is to apply to all, without exception.’

On 7 June 2024, the IBAHRI called on US President Biden to drop all charges against Mr Assange in relation to the Wikileaks publication, in 2010, of more than 250,000 classified US government documents – exposing alleged human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by the US army during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Given the inherent risks posed in extraditing Mr Assange to the US, where a prison sentence of up to 175 years could have been imposed under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the IBAHRI closely followed the case.

On 20 May 2024, the United Kingdom High Court of Justice had granted Mr Assange the right to appeal in his lengthy extradition battle against him being sent to the US. The IBAHRI welcomed the ruling and underscored the exceptional significance of the judgment in reaffirming international laws and standards that protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression and the protection of media personnel and public interest journalism worldwide.

IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy LT KC, stated: ‘After many years, we are relieved to see Julian Assange finally return to Australia a free man after what has been an horrendous judicial saga for him and his family. The IBAHRI has closely followed this case with concern, as investigative and public interest journalism were also on trial. As part of the global human rights and press freedom community, it has been necessary for us to advocate for the protection of free expression and defend a free media. Mr Assange provided the world with information that was of public interest. Prosecutorial charges should never have been brought against the Wikileaks founder for doing so. It is noted, with great concern, that almost 14 years on from charges being levied against Mr Assange, there is a distinct lack of accountability for the alleged crimes exposed in the documents published by Wikileaks. The IBAHRI reiterates its call for an independent enquiry into possible war crimes that resulted in the death of civilians, including two journalists, allegedly perpetrated by the US military during wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.’


Contact: IBAHRI@int-bar.org

Notes to the Editor

  1. Background

    In 2010, Julian Assange publicly disclosed via the WikiLeaks website more than 250,000 classified US government documents which exposed alleged human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by the US army during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Mr Assange was first arrested in December 2010, on a warrant issued by a Swedish prosecutor. In 2012, his extradition was ordered by Westminster Magistrates’ Court. However, Mr Assange instead entered the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was given asylum for seven years. In 2017, the Swedish authorities withdrew the arrest warrant against Mr Assange. In 2018, charges were secretly filed against Mr Assange by the US Department of Justice. In April 2019, Mr Assange was arrested for breaching his bail conditions in 2012 and further arrested on behalf of the US authorities under an extradition warrant for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. In May 2019, a federal grand jury indicts Mr Assange on 17 additional charges, accusing him of violating the Espionage Act by exposing information many have argued to be in the public interest, bringing the number of charges against him to 18. In January 2021, the Westminster Magistrates Court rejected the US request to extradite Mr Assange due to the impact on his mental health. In December 2021, the US win their bid to overturn the ruling and, in June 2022, the UK government orders the extradition of Mr Assange to the US. The UK government, however, is unable to action this due to a pending appeal by Mr Assange. In February 2024, Mr Assange's legal team challenge his extradition to the US at the UK High Court. After reserving judgement, in May 2024, the High Court judges rule in favour of Mr Assange, allowing a new appeal against extradition to be brought on certain grounds. The hearing was scheduled to take place on 9 and 10 July, however, on 19 June, a US plea arrangement, signed by Mr Assange and the UK High Court, granted him bail to attend his sentencing hearing in Saipan Island.

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  3. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute(IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous entity working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, with the aim of protecting and promoting the rule of law globally, the IBA was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

Website page link for this news release:

Short link: https://tinyurl.com/2s3vuz89

Full link: https://www.ibanet.org/IBAHRI-welcomes-Julian-Assange’s-release-from-prison-with-US-plea-deal-ending-lengthy-legal-battle