Has Assange’s Odyssey Finally Come to a Conclusion? - Bitfinex blog
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Has Assange’s Odyssey Finally Come to a Conclusion?

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been embroiled in a multi-year high-profile legal battle stemming from his role in publishing classified U.S. military documents. After managing to evade arrest and then seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 over separate charges which were later dropped, Assange was arrested by British authorities in April 2019 when Ecuador revoked his asylum. He’s now taken a plea deal and no longer faces potential extradition to the United States, and will receive time-served for his incarceration and has been released. His case has sparked significant debate over press freedom, government transparency, and the treatment of whistleblowers, making it one of the most prescient human rights cases in modern times.

A Revisiting of the Turbulent WikiLeaks Saga

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, an Australian activist, and journalist, with the vision of creating a platform where whistleblowers could safely expose unethical behaviour, corruption, and human rights abuses. The organisation aimed to publish leaked documents from anonymous sources, shedding light on the inner workings of governments and corporations. WikiLeaks had a massive impact on countering the official narratives surrounding many politically controversial events throughout the 2000s, and for many, over the years, it  has become synonymous with transparency, freedom of information, and, notably, controversy.

WikiLeaks gained global recognition in 2010 when it released a series of classified U.S. military documents and diplomatic cables. Among the most significant of these leaks was the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed several people, including two Reuters journalists. This video, along with the Afghan and Iraq war logs, revealed numerous incidents of civilian casualties, alleged human rights violations, and instances of misconduct by U.S. forces and their allies in the Middle East. The publication of these documents sparked international outrage and significantly impacted public perception of U.S. military operations.

The reaction from the U.S. government and its allies was swift and severe. WikiLeaks faced intense scrutiny, and efforts were made to undermine its operations. Financial institutions, including PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard, ceased processing donations to WikiLeaks, effectively cutting off its primary funding sources. In response to this financial blockade, WikiLeaks adopted Bitcoin in 2011, a move which paid off exponentially as Bitcoin adoption and price exploded in the coming years. They began accepting Bitcoin donations, and by 2014, they had raised over $5 million in Bitcoin. 

This allowed them to continue their work and expose further government secrets, including those related to the Syrian civil war. Bitcoin, the first decentralised digital currency, allowed the organisation to circumvent traditional financial channels and continue receiving donations by leveraging Bitcoin’s censorship-resistance. This move not only helped WikiLeaks survive the financial embargo but also highlighted the potential of cryptocurrencies as a means of resisting censorship and financial control.

WikiLeaks’ adoption of Bitcoin, following this high profile and much publicised example of financial censorship and deplatforming by major payment processors, was a pivotal moment that brought the digital currency into the mainstream spotlight. This move, however, caused concern for Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, who feared that the association with WikiLeaks could attract unwanted governmental scrutiny and potentially harm the fledgling project. Despite these concerns, WikiLeaks’ embrace of Bitcoin played a crucial role in its early adoption and success, demonstrating its utility as a censorship-resistant financial tool and significantly increasing public awareness and interest in the cryptocurrency.

The Tide Turns on Assange, and a Witch Hunt Begins

Julian Assange’s personal ordeal began to intensify around the same time. In late 2010, Swedish authorities issued a warrant for Assange’s arrest on allegations of sexual misconduct. Assange and his supporters have consistently maintained that these charges were politically motivated, aimed at discrediting him and facilitating his extradition to the United States. Fearing extradition to Sweden and subsequently to the U.S., where he believed he would face severe charges and potentially life imprisonment, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012. He remained confined within the embassy for nearly seven years, living in a small room with limited access to the outside world.

During his time in the embassy, Assange’s health deteriorated, and he continued to face legal and political pressures. In 2019, the Ecuadorian government, under President Lenin Moreno, revoked Assange’s asylum, citing his alleged violations of the terms of his asylum and poor relations with embassy staff. On April 11, 2019, British police entered the embassy and arrested Assange. He was subsequently sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012. More significantly, the U.S. government unsealed an indictment against Assange, charging him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and later adding 17 counts under the Espionage Act.

Assange’s arrest and imprisonment have been met with widespread condemnation from human rights organisations, journalists, and free speech advocates. They argue that the charges against Assange set a dangerous precedent for press freedom and the right to publish information in the public interest. The legal battle over his extradition to the U.S.was a long and tedious ordeal, with Assange’s defence team arguing that he wouldn’t have received a fair trial and that his mental and physical health would have been at severe risk in the U.S. prison system.

WikiLeaks’ journey, from its inception to its role in exposing government secrets and Assange’s subsequent persecution, underscores the ongoing struggle for transparency, accountability, and freedom of the press. The organisation’s adoption of Bitcoin in the face of financial censorship exemplifies the intersection of technology and activism, highlighting new ways to resist suppression in the digital age. Meanwhile, Julian Assange’s plight remains an important reminder of the high stakes involved in challenging powerful entities and the enduring importance of protecting whistleblowers and investigative journalism.

Welcome Home Mr. Assange! A Look at the Plea Deal & Release

Julian Assange’s plea deal marks a significant turning point in his prolonged legal saga. Assange agreed to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defence information, as part of a deal negotiated with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ). This plea deal was arranged to avoid a lengthy and potentially more damaging trial that could have resulted in harsher penalties. By agreeing to this deal, Assange admitted to his role in one of the most significant leaks of classified information in U.S. history, but in return, the deal facilitated his immediate release from imprisonment, as it credited the time he already served in a British prison.

The plea deal stipulated that Assange would be sentenced to 62 months, which corresponds to the amount of time he has already spent in custody. This arrangement means that Assange will not face additional jail time in the United States. The proceedings took place in a U.S. federal court in the Northern Mariana Islands, chosen for its proximity to Australia and to accommodate Assange’s opposition to travelling to the continental United States. This resolution aims to end the protracted legal and diplomatic tensions surrounding his case, allowing him to return to his home country of Australia following his court appearance.

Assange’s release from the high-security Belmarsh Prison in the UK occurred shortly before his departure to Saipan for the court proceedings. The conditions of his release included a bail hearing that was held privately at his request, underscoring the high-profile and sensitive nature of his case. The conclusion of his legal battle occurred with the judge’s final approval of the plea deal. The judge signed off on the agreement yesterday in a US federal court located in Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands. Assange is now a free man, a development that has been met with relief and celebration by his supporters and family.

The resolution of Assange’s legal battle through this plea deal brings an end to over a decade of intense legal wrangling and international controversy. The agreement allows Assange to avoid further imprisonment and grants him the opportunity to return to a normal life in Australia. However, the implications of this case continue to resonate, particularly regarding press freedom and the treatment of whistleblowers. As Assange prepares to reintegrate into society, his case serves as a critical reminder of the complexities and consequences of revealing state secrets and the ongoing struggle to balance national security with the public’s right to know.