Dramatic release of Julian Assange was ‘touch and go’, says wife

The wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has revealed his dramatic release from prison had been “touch and go” until the final few hours.

Stella Assange said she was not sure 24 hours ago that her husband would leave Belmarsh prison in London where he has spent more than five years fighting extradition to the United States.

He boarded a plan at Stansted airport after reaching a plea deal with US authorities which is set to be formalised early on Wednesday.

He will plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of obtaining and disclosing information of national importance.

Stella Assange travelled on Sunday with her two young sons to Australia where the family is expected to live.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It has been touch and go. We were not sure until the last 24 hours that it was actually happening.

“It has been non-stop for the last 72 hours. The agreement in principle between Julian and the Department of Justice has to be signed off by a judge in Mariana. Once the judge signs it off it is finally real.”

Ms Assange said the deal was “very interesting” but she did not want to go into details at this stage.

She said she has not told sons Gabriel and Max that their father has left prison.

“I told them we were going to visit their family. They still don’t know – no one can stop a seven year old and five year old from shouting from the rooftop. They are excited to be going to Australia.

“They have never seen Julian outside Belmarsh, in a single visitors’ room.”

She added that the priority now was to improve her husband’s health, saying he had been in a “terrible state” in prison.

“I am just so emotional now that this is finally over.”

In a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, just after midnight on Tuesday, the official WikiLeaks account said Assange was granted bail by the High Court in London and released from Belmarsh prison on Monday morning “after having spent 1,901 days there”.

The statement continued: “He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.

Stella Assange speaking into microphone
Stella Assange, who married Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in 2022, has campaigned for his freedom (PA)

“This created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice, leading to a deal that has not yet been formally finalised.”

Video posted to X by WikiLeaks showed Assange, seated and dressed casually in jeans and a shirt, discussing the text on a sheet of paper.

He is then shown walking up steps onto a Vista Jet aircraft.

Speaking on Assange’s release, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the nation’s parliament on Tuesday “we want him brought home to Australia”.

He said: “I’ve been very clear as both the Labour leader and opposition, but also as prime minister that – regardless of the views that people have about Mr Assange’s activities – the case has dragged on for too long.

“There is nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia.”

Mr Albanese added that Australian diplomatic forces “have engaged and advocated Australia’s interest using all appropriate channels to support a positive outcome”, which he took up early in his role after being elected prime minister in 2022.

He added: “I will have more to say when these legal proceedings have concluded, which I hope will be very soon, and I will report as appropriate at that time.”

A letter to the United States chief judge of the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands Ramona V Manglona, as seen by the PA news agency, also confirmed Assange intends to return to Australia once proceedings conclude.

The WikiLeaks statement also thanked “all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom”.

It said: “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.

“WikiLeaks published ground-breaking 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.

“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. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”

In a separate post on X, Mrs Assange said: “Julian is free!!!!

Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, told Australia’s Sky News that she is “grateful” her son’s ordeal is “finally coming to an end”.

She said: “This shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy. Many have used my son’s situation to push their own agenda, so I am grateful to those unseen, hardworking people who put Julian’s welfare first.

“The past 14 years have obviously taken a toll on me as a mother, so I wish to thank you in advance for respecting my privacy.”

Assange had been locked in a lengthy legal battle in the UK over his extradition, which saw him enter and live in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2012 before his detention in Belmarsh prison.

In a January 2021 ruling, then-district judge Vanessa Baraitser said Assange should not be sent to the US, citing a real and “oppressive” risk of suicide, while ruling against him on all other issues.

Later that year, US authorities won a High Court bid to overturn this block, paving the way towards Assange’s extradition.

Assange was due to bring his own challenge to the High Court in London in early July after he was recently given the go-ahead to challenge the original judge’s dismissal of parts of his case.

Assange has been in custody at HMP Belmarsh for more than five years, fighting his lengthy legal battle against extradition to the United States.

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