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Julian Assange Is Free: WikiLeaks Founder’s Brother Gabriel Shipton on End of Decadelong Legal Saga

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been freed from Belmarsh Prison in London, where he has been incarcerated for the past five years, after accepting a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors. After a decade-plus of legal challenges, Assange will plead guilty to a single felony count of illegally obtaining and disclosing national security material for publishing classified documents detailing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan on WikiLeaks. The Australian publisher is expected to be sentenced to time served and allowed to return home, where he reportedly will seek a pardon. Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton describes learning of his release as “an amazing moment.” He speaks to Democracy Now! about Assange’s case and what led up to the latest developments, as well as what he expects will happen next.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is free. Assange has been freed from prison in the U.K. after accepting a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors. He’s now flying to the Pacific island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, where he’ll appear before a U.S. federal judge Wednesday morning. As part of the plea deal, Assange will plead guilty to a single felony count of illegally obtaining and disclosing national security material. He’s expected to be sentenced to time served. Julian Assange will then be allowed to fly home to Australia.

The shocking developments cap a more than decadelong legal ordeal for Julian Assange after he published classified documents detailing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including video that showed a U.S. military Apache helicopter in Baghdad killing 12 civilians, including two Reuters journalists. WikiLeaks titled the video “Collateral Murder.”

Press freedom groups have denounced successive U.S. administrations for targeting Assange, who had been facing 175 years in U.S. prison if he had been extradited and convicted.

Twelve years ago this month, Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was given political asylum. He spent seven years there. He has spent the last five years locked up in the harsh Belmarsh Prison in London. His wife Stella Assange said earlier today Julian will now seek a pardon after the plea deal.

STELLA ASSANGE: Of course, I mean, I think that the correct course of action from the U.S. government should have been to drop the case entirely. We will be seeking a pardon, obviously. But the fact that there is a guilty plea under the Espionage Act in relation to obtaining and disclosing national defense information is obviously a very serious concern for journalists and national security journalists in general.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he wanted Julian Assange brought back home to Australia as soon as possible.

PRIME MINISTER ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve been very clear, as both the Labor leader in 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. And we have engaged and advocated Australia’s interests using all appropriate channels to support a positive outcome, and I’ve done that since very early on in my prime ministership. 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.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman in New York, joined by Democracy Now! co-host Juan González in Chicago. Hi, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Hi, Amy. And welcome to all of our listeners and viewers across the country and around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, these are certainly stunning developments. And we’re joined right now by three guests. In Washington, D.C., Trevor Timm is with us, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a group that’s long advocated for Assange’s release. In Sydney, Australia, Antony Loewenstein is with us, independent journalist, longtime supporter of WikiLeaks and author of the best-selling book The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World. And we’re joined by Julian Assange’s half-brother, the filmmaker Gabriel Shipton, joining us from La Rochelle, France.

Gabriel, can you talk about these latest developments that have shocked many around the world? As we speak, Julian Assange has already landed in Bangkok, has left the maximum-security prison Belmarsh, headed to Saipan, where he’ll enter a U.S. district court, and then freed to go home to Australia. How did this all take place?

GABRIEL SHIPTON: Well, this has been years, many, many years of advocacy, at many, many levels across government, in Congress, through the media, through nongovernment organizations, advocacy organizations like Trevor Timm’s Freedom of the Press Foundation. This has been a huge campaign that has been a global campaign, a grassroots campaign. And this is the culmination of that campaign.

The Australian government has — as you heard from the prime minister now, the Australian government has been really at the edge of the coalface now at the last moments, making sure that Julian can get home. They’re the only government that can represent him diplomatically. But it’s the real pressure from the Australian people that led them to be able to advocate so strongly for Julian Assange.

So, I’ve been speaking to Julian over the past week. He’s been getting ready to get on this flight. It all seems very surreal and overwhelming. I mean, we’re overjoyed as Julian’s family. He still, though, has a couple of hurdles to get through, as you described, before he is completely safe and sound on Australian soil. But Stella and my dad are looking forward to meeting him on the tarmac once he arrives in Australia. And this is just such a happy moment for us all, Amy and Juan.

And thank you, as well, to your reporting on this case. Without media organizations like yours, people wouldn’t know what’s going on. And many of your viewers out there who I know have advocated for Julian, I want to thank them, as well, from the bottom of our hearts. And yeah, it’s an amazing moment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gabriel, there have been now for several weeks some reports that there was an impending potential plea deal that would gain Julian’s release. But could you talk about, in your discussions with your brother, what finally put it over, and also why he is flying to the Northern Mariana Islands to appear in a federal court there? What’s your understanding of that?

GABRIEL SHIPTON: Well, there is a High Court — there was a High Court appeal hearing coming up on the 9th and 10th of July in the United Kingdom. And that appeal hearing was — Julian’s appeal was approved, and it was expressly on the freedom of expression parts of this case, that Julian would not enjoy freedom of expression rights if he was extradited to the United States. So, there was a bit of a ticking clock for the DOJ to push this through. I doubt they would have wanted to have a very high-profile freedom of expression case in the U.K. courts running up to this election season. So I think there was a bit of pressure to get this resolved. The U.K. election is also coming up. But I have to give credit to everybody out there who’s been advocating for this for so long, because this wouldn’t have been possible without them.

The stopover in the islands, that is the closest U.S. jurisdiction to Australia, so Julian can stop off there on the way back to Australia, and the judge can, hopefully, accept the plea deal. So, that’s the idea in thinking around stopping there. It’s only six hours away from Australia, and it is on the way back from the United Kingdom.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in your conversations with Julian in recent weeks, what’s your sense of his health? Because there have been many concerns over the years of his imprisonment and restrictions in terms of his health.

GABRIEL SHIPTON: Yeah, well, his physical health, his mental well-being has been worn down through his time in prison. So, now he has — well, not quite yet, but hopefully in the next day or so, he will be able to get some serious rest and recuperation, spend time with his two small children and his wife Stella. Yeah, it’s just a very happy, happy moment for us. The doctors I’ve spoken to who have seen Julian said he can recover. So, we’re hoping that he gets some time now to do that, where — just some quiet time, you know, to listen to the birds sing and maybe take a swim in the ocean.

I spoke to Julian, and he said that he was looking forward to maybe going to some of the places or seeing some of the places that he used to roam around in Melbourne. But I think life is going to be a bit different for Julian now. The last time he was in Melbourne or in Australia was many, many years ago, before he had such fame or notoriety. So, it’s going to be a different life for him, but a free life, which we’re all, yeah, very pumped about.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gabriel Shipton, congratulations, Assange’s brother, speaking to us from La Rochelle, France, where he’s at a film festival. He’s also the producer of a film about Julian Assange and his father called Ithaka. We’re going to break and then come back to Trevor Timm in Washington, D.C., at the Freedom of Press Foundation, and Antony Loewenstein, who lives where Julian Assange is headed, Australia. Stay with us.

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Next story from this daily show

Press Freedom Advocates Celebrate Julian Assange’s Release, But Warn of Impact of Plea Deal

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