Julian Assange is now free to do or say whatever he likes. What does his future hold?

0 10

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — He has run for office, published hundreds of thousands of leaked government documents online, and once lobbied to save his local swimming pool. One of the most polarizing and influential figures of the information age, Julian Assange is now free after five years in a British prison and seven years in self-imposed exile in a London embassy.

What’s next for the WikiLeaks founder remains unclear.

Assange, 52, landed in his homeland of Australia this week after pleading guilty to obtaining and publishing U.S. military secrets in a deal with Justice Department prosecutors that put an end to an attempt to extradite him to the United States. That could have resulted in a lengthy prison sentence in the event of conviction.

“Julian plans to swim in the ocean every day. He plans to sleep in a real bed. He plans to taste real food, and he plans to enjoy his freedom,” his wife, Stella Assange, told reporters Thursday at a news conference that Assange did not attend.

Her husband and the father of her two children would continue to “defend human rights and speak out against injustice,” she said. “He can choose how he does that because he is a free man.”

Assange himself has given no clues.

Will he “switch off”?

All friends and acquaintances of Assange interviewed by The Associated Press this week emphasized that they did not know his future plans and underscored the toll taken by his ordeal — in prison he spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, following years in self-exile inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

“I just want him to survive this ordeal and be happy. I don’t care what Julian does next,” said Andrew Wilkie, an Independent Australian lawmaker who met Assange before the hacker launched WikiLeaks — and was one of the first politicians to lobby for Australia to intervene in his case.

But some also found it hard to imagine Assange wouldn’t eventually return to the preoccupations that have long captured him.

“I suspect though that he doesn’t switch off, and it’s hard to see him just disappearing to a beach shack forever,” added Wilkie.

Assange was “unable to walk past injustice” said Suelette Dreyfus, a lecturer in the School of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne who has known Assange since he was a teenager, hacking secure networks for the fun of it. Dreyfus, who once lobbied alongside Assange to save a swimming pool in Melbourne, said her friend’s health had worsened during his years in a British jail.

“But I suspect he will not sit on a beach for the rest of his life,” she said.

What is next for WikiLeaks?

It is unclear what will happen to WikiLeaks, the site Assange founded in 2006 as a place to post confidential documents exposing corruption and revealing secret government workings behind warfare and spying. That work led him to be celebrated by supporters as a transparency crusader but lambasted by national security hawks who insisted that his conduct put lives at risks and strayed far beyond the bounds of traditional journalism.

The site remains online, although Assange told The Nation in 2023 that it had ceased publishing because of his imprisonment, and because state surveillance and the freezing of WikiLeaks funds had deterred whistleblowers. Assange’s plea deal with the U.S. included an agreement to destroy any unpublished U.S. documents.

“Will he go back to WikiLeaks and, if he does, will he do it differently? I don’t know,” said Wilkie, the lawmaker.

Will he receive a pardon?

One matter where Assange’s views are known is his hope for a pardon from a current or future U.S. president on the charge he pleaded guilty to as part of his deal.

Media analysts worry the conviction threatened to cast a chilling effect on public interest journalism. Assange has always insisted he is a journalist and the case could lead to the prosecution of other reporters, said Peter Greste, a professor at the University of Queensland and a former foreign correspondent who was jailed in Egypt for his reporting.

Could he run for office?

In the past, Assange had designs on elected office, making an unsuccessful bid for the Australian senate with his WikiLeaks party in 2013, although he has not suggested he will contest an election again.

“When you turn a bright light on, the cockroaches scuttle away. That’s what we need to do to Canberra,” he told the news program 60 Minutes the same year, when asked why he wanted to enter politics.

But where the government of the day had despised Assange — a mutual feeling, he said — he was met in his homeland on Wednesday with a hero’s welcome, including from some politicians and a public who had not supported him before.

It reflected a slow reversal of views about the WikiLeaks founder in Australia – but it belied an odd tension, too. In a recent high-profile case, an Australian judge sentenced a former army lawyer to almost six years in prison for leaking classified information that exposed allegations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. Assange’s legal team mentioned the case on Thursday.

Analysts said that case and others, along with the renewed focus on Assange, drew attention to a fraught national culture of information secrecy that has been endorsed even by some of the politicians who celebrated Assange’s freedom.

“We have some of the most restrictive legislation on access to public information in the world, and we have no constitutional protection for press freedom or freedom of speech,” said Greste. “I hope that Julian does also get involved in campaigning to support press freedom, and transparency and accountability of information in Australia.”

Even when Assange did address the idea of what he may do next — in a 2018 interview for the World Ethical Digital Forum, credited as his last public appearance before he was jailed — he was typically enigmatic.

“I don’t know,” he said. “No, I mean I do know. But I don’t know what I should answer in response to that question.”

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.