Who is Wikileaks' Julian Assange and what did he do? (2024)

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Who is Wikileaks' Julian Assange and what did he do? (1)Image source, Reuters

Julian Assange has arrived in Australia after walking free from an American court following a deal with US authorities.

He pleaded guilty to one criminal charge under the deal after fighting against extradition to the US, where he was accused of disclosing military secrets.

What did Julian Assange do?

Mr Assange ran Wikileaks, a website that published many confidential or restricted official reports related to war, spying and corruption.

In 2010, it released a video from a US military helicopter which showed civilians being killed in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

It also published thousands of confidential documents supplied by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. These suggested that the US military had killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents during the war in Afghanistan.

The revelations became a huge story, prompting reaction from all corners of the globe, and led to intense scrutiny of American involvement in foreign conflicts.

The US said the leaks had endangered the lives of American personnel.

Mr Assange was accused of conspiring to break into its military databases, external to acquire sensitive information, and was charged with 18 offences.

Efforts were made to bring him to the US for prosecution - which he fought for 14 years in some of the world's highest courts.

Mr Assange has always argued that he exposed serious abuses by US armed forces, and that the case against him was politically motivated.

Image source, Wikileaks

Who is Julian Assange?

Born in Australia, Mr Assange is described by those who have worked with him as intense, driven and highly intelligent, with an exceptional ability to crack computer codes.

He gained a reputation for computer programming as a teenager. In 1995, he was fined for hacking offences.

He also co-wrote a bestselling book on the emerging, subversive side of the internet, before studying physics and maths.

What were the sexual assault allegations against Julian Assange?

In 2010 - the year Wikileaks released the footage of US soldiers shooting dead Iraqi civilians - the Swedish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mr Assange, accusing him of having raped one woman and molested another.

This marked the start of Mr Assange's 14-year legal battle.

He was detained in the UK and denied the claims against him, arguing that they were a ploy to extradite him to the US to face espionage charges over the Wikileaks disclosures.

In 2012, he claimed asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London - having found sympathy for his cause from the country's then-president.

Image source, PA

Mr Assange spent seven years in the embassy, and was regularly visited by celebrity supporters including the singer Lady Gaga and the actress Pamela Anderson.

When he was ordered to leave the building by a later Ecuadorean president, he was arrested by UK police, and went on to spend five years in a British prison as he continued efforts to fight extradition to the US.

In November 2019, the Swedish authorities dropped the case against Mr Assange because they said too much time had passed since the alleged offences.

Why has Julian Assange been released now?

Mr Assange's release from a UK prison comes after a deal under which he pleaded guilty to one charge under the US Espionage Act. He will spend no time in a US jail.

Mr Assange's supporters said the agreement was reached after intense diplomatic efforts and pressure from Australia. The country's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the case had "dragged on too long".

The hearing took place in the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory in the Pacific Ocean.

US President Joe Biden had previously said he would consider a formal request to drop charges - a remark that was welcomed by Mr Assange's supporters, who cited his ill-health.

Mr Assange's wife Stella Assange suggested a "breakthrough" was finally reached after the UK High Court began to consider her husband's constitutional protections under the freedom of the press.

She told the BBC that she was "elated" about his release, but that it had been "touch and go" at times.

Image source, Getty Images

What is Wikileaks and what else has it done?

Mr Assange's website, which he set up in 2006, claims to have published more than 10 million documents on all manner of topics.

It is currently led by Icelandic journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson.

As well as the revelations related to Iraq and Afghanistan, it published a leak of documents from movie studio Sony Pictures in 2015.

It also disclosed thousands of hacked emails from the account of Hillary Clinton's campaign boss John Podesta, in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election.

To its supporters, the whistleblowing website is a key player in exposing secrets governments and companies would rather keep hidden.

But those whose documents were exposed on the web argue it is a dangerous and reckless force.

Who is Stella Assange?

Ms Assange is a Swedish-Spanish lawyer.

The couple began their relationship in 2015, and have two children together, Max and Gabriel.

Image source, Getty Images

They married inside London's Belmarsh prison - where Mr Assange was held at the time - in 2022.

Her dress was designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler.

Six guests attended, including Mr Assange's two brothers and his father.

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