How crypto helped set Julian Assange free

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has been freed from a UK prison after striking a plea deal with the US that allows him to return to his native Australia on the condition that he pleads guilty to one count of espionage. 

Assange spent five years in prison and seven years in Ecuador’s London embassy while fighting against his extradition to the US. He faced 18 espionage charges over the leaking of confidential military data, records from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and US diplomatic cables.

Assange flew to Bangkok on Tuesday and, after a short stopover, will proceed to Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands where he will appear before a US Federal Court.

There, he will plead guilty to conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defense documents. It’s reported that he can expect to face no extra jail time due to the five years he’s already spent in prison

Assange was freed on June 24 and granted bail by a London High Court.

Crypto supported Julian Assange

On numerous occasions, Assange has relied on crypto to further his cause and crowdfund legal support. In June 2011, WikiLeaks began accepting donations in bitcoin, six months after PayPal froze its accounts. 

This was despite Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto pleading for the platform to do the opposite, claiming its adoption would bring ‘heat’ to the fledgling crypto that “would likely destroy us at this stage.” 

Indeed, in December 2010, Nakamoto responded to a PC World article about Bitcoin, saying, “WikiLeaks has kicked the hornet’s nest, and the swarm is headed towards us.”

Over a decade later, in December 2021, the AssangeDAO was created and raised over 16,000 ETH worth $55.2 million at today’s prices through the sale of ‘Justice’ tokens. According to AssangeDAO member Silke Noa, 11,000 ETH worth around $37 million of this was used for “legal defense and campaigning.” Noa has now urged the Wau Holland Foundation (the Germany-based nonprofit responsible for processing donations to Assange) to provide a detailed account of how the funds are allocated.

Read more: Craig Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto, judge rules

This year, blockchain security firms SlowMist and RescuETH accused the project of ‘soft-rugging,’ which Assange’s brother denies, calling the reports false.

Assange was also on the cypherpunks mailing list — a collection of privacy and cryptography-focused individuals who were the recipients of Satoshi’s first Bitcoin email — and presented a ‘metaverse’ political protest against his extradition. 

Ultimately, both WikiLeaks and the crypto movement share the same ethos of anti-censorship. Assange and his WikiLeaks project relied on the use of cryptocurrency to crowdfund support against the US while attempts were made to block the site, shutter its payments, and suppress the journalism it produced. Bitcoin, meanwhile, is touted as anti-censorship through its transaction immutability.

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