WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange freed in US plea deal

Julian Assange was on his way to his native Australia on Wednesday as a free man after years of international legal drama for the WikiLeaks founder, who had long been wanted for revealing US state secrets.

Assange, who from 2010 published hundreds of thousands of secret US documents as head of the whistleblowing website, was released this week from a high-security British prison.

The 52-year-old traveled to the Northern Mariana Islands, a Pacific US territory, to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate national defence information.

He was sentenced Wednesday to five years and two months in prison -- but credited for the same amount of time he spent behind bars in Britain while fighting extradition to the United States.

"You will be able to walk out of this courtroom a free man," the judge told Assange, adding she hoped the deal would restore some "peace" to him after his incarceration.

Over the years, Assange has become a hero to free speech campaigners and a villain to those who thought he had endangered US security and intelligence sources.

He did not address the media as he left the court, and his plane took off shortly thereafter for Canberra, where he will be reunited with his family.

"Working as a journalist, I encouraged my source to provide material that was said to be classified," Assange, dressed in a black suit with a brown tie and his hair slicked back, told the court.


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