Assange returns to Australia after pleading guilty to US espionage charge

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has returned to Australia after pleading guilty to obtaining and sharing classified documents about the U.S. military.

He pleaded guilty to conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. intelligence analyst, to obtain and disclose the classified documents. He entered his plea in a U.S. district court in Saipan, which is the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, before returning to his homeland of Australia.

Reuters reported that he received a warm welcome upon his arrival Wednesday, with cheering supporters meeting him at the airport. He then kissed his wife, Stella, and hugged his father, the outlet reported.

The Associated Press reported that Australia Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, an advocate for Assange’s release, spoke to the WikiLeaks founder over the phone after his arrival.

“He described it as a surreal and happy moment, his landing here in our national capital, Canberra,” Albanese told reporters, according to the AP. “I had a very warm discussion with him this evening. He was very generous in his praise of the Australian government’s efforts.” 

Assange reached a plea deal earlier this week with the U.S. after spending the last five years in British prison to avoid extradition to the United States. The Justice Department said Assange received a 62-month time-served sentence during his Tuesday court appearance that reflected the time he spent in the British prison.

U.S. District Judge Ramona Manglona called Assange a “free man” as she imposed the sentence, according to the AP.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Assange is prohibited from returning to the U.S. without permission.

WikiLeaks first published the trove of classified military and intelligence documents in 2010. Assange was indicted on 18 charges, including 17 espionage charges and one for computer misuse, following the release of the classified documents.

The Associated Press contributed.

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