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Julian Assange pleads guilty to espionage but will defend himself in court

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Julian Assange has formally pleaded guilty to violating the Espionage Act. Federal Court in SaipanAssange was arrested in Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands. The WikiLeaks founder was released on June 24th after reaching a plea deal with the US government and flew from Stansted Airport to Saipan. The plea deal required Assange to plead guilty to “conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified information relating to the national defense of the United States,” but he still defended himself in court.

according to The Washington PostAssange argued that as a journalist he should have had the protection of the First Amendment. “In my role as a journalist I encouraged sources to provide information for the publication of allegedly classified information,” he said. “I think the First Amendment protects that.” He also believes the First Amendment and the Espionage Act are in conflict, but acknowledges that his actions “violated the Espionage Act” and that “given all the circumstances, such a lawsuit would be difficult to win.”

But U.S. government lawyers accused him of encouraging highly-secret personnel to leak classified military information and undermine national security. Recall that under his command, WikiLeaks published classified information about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars obtained by whistleblower Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence officer.

Lawyers for both sides argued for the length of time Assange should serve, but about three hours into the hearing, Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ruled that the 62 months he spent in Belmarsh prison were appropriate and equivalent to the time Manning served. Assange will not spend time in U.S. custody, but he must leave the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, immediately. At the time of writing, the same private jet that took him from London to Saipan is waiting to take him to Canberra, Australia.

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