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Julian Assange pleads guilty, walks out of court and heads to Australia a free man

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a view from the Northern Mariana Islands, where Assange was in court earlier today. His lawyer spoke with the press from Saipan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARRY POLLACK: Mr. Assange revealed truthful, important and newsworthy information, including revealing that the United States had committed war crimes.

INSKEEP: The United States government viewed the case differently and pursued him for years, a pursuit that has now ended with his guilty plea. KPRG's Naina Rao reports.

NAINA RAO, BYLINE: A warm and sunny day on the island of Saipan marked a new chapter for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. After pleading guilty to breaking the U.S. Espionage Act, he walked out of court a free man. The 52-year-old published secret military and government documents in 2010. He was released from federal court in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory situated about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. Judge Ramona Manglona concluded that the 62 months Assange had already spent in a U.K. prison was enough of a punishment. She let him go free on the condition that he leave the United States and its territories. During the court session, Assange explained that as a journalist, he encouraged a source to give him classified information to publish. He believed this was protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech, but he also accepted the consequences of publishing classified information. His golden-beige tie stuck out in an otherwise typical suit. He sported a black blazer and dress pants with a white buttoned top. He appeared calm, measured and composed, occasionally joking with the judge. Assange's defense lawyer, Barry Pollack, says his client has suffered tremendously in the fight for freedom of speech and to ensure that the public gets truthful information.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POLLACK: We firmly believe that Mr. Assange never should have been charged under the Espionage Act. It is appropriate, though, for this fight to end, and it is time for him to be reunited with his family.

RAO: This marks the end of a long legal saga for Assange. He spent seven years hiding in London's Ecuadorian Embassy in connection to a sexual assault investigation by Sweden. The accusations were later dropped. He was then arrested in the U.K. for skipping bail, and the U.S. tried to extradite him. But next week, Assange will celebrate his first birthday as a free man in a long time.

For NPR News, I'm Naina Rao in Saipan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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