SYDNEY, June 25 — The parents of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange today hailed the final stages of his legal “ordeal” following surprise news of an imminent plea deal for his freedom.

The 52-year-old Australian citizen was released from jail in London yesterday.

He was seen boarding a flight ahead of a scheduled court appearance in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific, on Wednesday morning local time.

Wikileaks said he planned to return to Australia.

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“I am grateful that my son’s ordeal is finally coming to an end. This shows the importance and power of quiet diplomacy,” his mother, Christine Assange, said in a statement carried by Australian public broadcaster ABC and other local media.

“Many have used my son’s situation to push their own agendas, so I am grateful to those unseen, hard-working people who put Julian’s welfare first,” she said.

“The past 14 years has obviously taken a toll on me as a mother, so I wish to thank you in advance for respecting my privacy.”

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US legal documents showed Assange had struck an agreement to secure his freedom by pleading guilty to a single count of revealing national defence information.

Assange was accused of publishing some 700,000 confidential documents related to US military and diplomatic activities, starting in 2010.

‘More than difficult’

His father, John Shipton, said he was a “little anxious to see whether all that’s in the news is sincere” after learning of the dramatic developments through US media.

“The appearance is that Julian will be able to enjoy ordinary life with his family and his wife Stella, that is my understanding,” he said in an interview with ABC radio.

“It looks as though Julian will be free to come back to Australia and my thanks and congratulations to all his supporters in Australia who made that possible and of course Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.”

Albanese has repeatedly called for Assange’s release, declaring earlier this year that “enough is enough” after the Australian parliament passed a motion calling for an end to his prosecution.

Shipton said his son had suffered during the “most productive time” of his life.

“I imagine that spending 15 years in one form or another of incarceration — finally ending up in five years in a maximum security prison — is difficult, more than difficult.”

The approach to his son’s freedom was “energising”, he said.

“Congratulations to everybody — it’s amazing.”

Assange had been detained in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison since April 2019.

He was arrested after spending seven years holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced accusations of sexual assault that were eventually dropped. — AFP