Julian Assange Returns Home to Australia

Julian Assange Returns Home to Australia
Julian Assange Returns Home to Australia

Julian Assange spent his first night in 14 years as a free man back at home in Australia as the conservative opposition cautioned the government against hailing the WikiLeaks founder as a hero.

Assange landed in Australia to an ecstatic welcome on Wednesday evening after pleading guilty to violating the US Espionage Act and being freed by a US court on the remote Pacific island of Saipan, having served more than five years in a British high-security jail.

His wife, Stella Assange, said it was too soon to say what her husband would do next and requested privacy for him.

Assange has not spoken publicly since being released. 

She repeated calls for a presidential pardon for Assange. Overnight a judge in the US state of Virginia formally dismissed all charges outstanding against him. 

Assange, who had holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for seven years before going to jail, had battled extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations and to the US, where he faced 18 criminal charges tied to WikiLeaks' release in 2010 of hundreds of thousands of US classified military documents and diplomatic cables.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been calling for Assange's release for several years, welcomed him home in a phone call saying he "had a very warm discussion" with Assange.

However, the conservative opposition raised concerns about portraying Assange as a hero after he spent more than a decade trying to avoid prosecution and then pleaded guilty to one criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified national defense documents.

The opposition leader in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, welcomed Assange's release