Assange seeks privacy to adjust to new-found freedom


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has retuned to Australia, accompanied by Kevin Rudd.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has retuned to Australia, accompanied by Kevin Rudd.

Julian Assange will spend time in his Australian homeland recovering from years in hiding and in custody, as his family appeals for privacy and say they don’t know when he will speak publicly.

“Julian needs time to recover, to get used to freedom,” his wife Stella said after the WikiLeaks founder’s arrival in Canberra late on Wednesday as a convicted US criminal but a free man.

A jubilant Assange fist-pumped, waved and gave thumbs up after stepping from a chartered jet before embracing and kissing Stella and hugging his father John Shipton.

Stella Assange and Jennifer Robinson
Stella Assange was accompanied by lawyer Jennifer Robinson at a Canberra media conference. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

There was great anticipation of Assange facing a late-night media conference, but he left his wife and lawyers to speak.

“Julian wanted me to sincerely thank everyone,” she said, at times her eyes welling with tears as she recounted her husband’s fight for freedom.

“He wanted to be here, but you have to understand what he’s been through.

“He needs time. He needs to recuperate. And this is a process.

Julian Assange kisses his wife Stella Morris.
Julian Assange kisses his wife Stella Morris after arriving in Canberra. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“I ask you – please – to give us space, to give us privacy, to find our place, to let our family be a family before he can speak again at a time of his choosing.”

Assange arrived in Canberra accompanied by US ambassador Kevin Rudd and UK High Commissioner Stephen Smith after more than a day of travel and a court hearing on the US territory island of Saipan in the western Pacific.

His lawyer Jennifer Robinson, who was also on the flight, said when the jet touched down in Australia, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was the first on the phone.

“Julian thanked him and the team and told the prime minister that he had saved his life. And I don’t think that that is an exaggeration,” she said.

A plane carrying Julian Assange arrives in Canberra.
Julian Assange arrived in Australia on Wednesday night after more than a day of travel. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

For almost 15 years the Australian has been evading authorities seeking to bring him to American soil on spying charges after he leaked troves of secret defence information.

He spent almost seven years holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy before being detained for more than five years in a maximum-security UK prison where he fought his extradition.

On Wednesday, the 52-year-old secured his freedom by pleading guilty to a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents and was sentenced to 62 months – time he has already served.

The prime minister said he was pleased the ordeal was over, and thanked the US and the UK for their assistance.

“There was nothing to be gained by the further incarceration of Mr Assange and we wanted him brought home tonight,” Mr Albanese said.

“That has happened, we have got this done.”

Mr Albanese directly raised the issue with US President Joe Biden and in September politicians from across Australia’s political spectrum converged on Washington DC to lobby US decision-makers.

US ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy said the US was grateful to the Australian government for its commitment and assistance throughout the process.

Anthony Albanese
Nothing was to be gained by the further incarceration of Julian Assange, Anthony Albanese said. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“The return of Julian Assange to Australia brings this longstanding and difficult case to a close,” she said in a statement.

Opposition finance spokeswoman Jane Hume said Assange was “no hero” of hers but welcomed his return.

“He put lives in danger, not just of counter-intelligence agents in the US but also of innocent and helpful Iraqi and Afghan citizens who were helping coalition forces,” she said.

After the hearing, Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack said the court had “determined that no harm was caused by Mr Assange’s publications”.

For his supporters, it was a moment of jubilation.

“It’s a great victory for freedom of expression and also justice,” Australian Assange Campaign legal adviser Greg Barns SC told AAP.

“Julian faced the prospect of over 170 years in a US jail if he’d been convicted of the charges for which the Americans were seeking to extradite him.”