Julian Assange pleads guilty to espionage but defends himself in court

He's not going to spend more time in prison and is going back to his native Australia.

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Julian Assange has formally pleaded guilty to violating the Espionage Act at a federal courthouse in Saipan, the capital of Northern Mariana Islands. The WikiLeaks founder was released from prison on June 24 after reaching a plea deal with the US government and quickly boarded a plane at Stansted Airport to make his way to Saipan. While the deal required Assange to plead guilty to "conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified information relating to the national defense of the United States," he still defended himself in court.

According to The Washington Post, Assange argued that he should've been protected by the First Amendment as a journalist. "Working as a journalist, I encouraged my source to provide information that was said to be classified in order to publish that information," he said. "I believe the First Amendment protected that." He also said that he believes the First Amendment and the Espionage Act are in contradiction of each other, but he accepts that his actions were in "violation of an espionage statute" and that it would be "difficult to win such a case given all the circumstances."

A lawyer for the US government, however, accused him of encouraging personnel with high security clearances to expose classified military information and threaten national security. If you'll recall, WikiLeaks published classified information related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which was obtained by whistleblower and former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, under his leadership.

Lawyers from both sides argued about the time Assange served in prison, but around three hours after the proceeding started, Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona declared that the 62 months he spent in Belmarsh Prison was reasonable and on par with the time served by Manning. Assange will not spend any time in US custody, but he has to leave the US Northern Mariana Islands immediately. The same private jet that flew him from London to Saipan flew him back to Canberra, Australia, because he wasn't allowed to fly commercial, according to his wife Stella Assange.