WikiLeaks founder Assange hearing ‘significant’ for Pacific island Saipan

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange . . . flying to Saipan in the Pacific. Image: @Justinghiandone

By Lydia Lewis, RNZ Pacific journalist

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s court hearing in Saipan is set to make “this dot in the middle of the Pacific” the centre of the world for one day, says a CNMI journalist.

The Northern Marianas — a group of islands in the Micronesian portion of the Pacific with a population of about 50,000 — is gearing up for a landmark legal case.

In 2010, WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents on Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — the largest security breaches of their kind in US military history.

Assange is expected to plead guilty to a US espionage charge in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands today at 9am local time.

Saipantribune.com journalist and RNZ Pacific’s Saipan correspondent Mark Rabago will be in court, and said it was a significant moment for Saipan.

“Not everybody knows Saipan, much less can spell it right. So it’s one of the few times in a decade that CNMI or Saipan is put in the map,” he said.

He said there was heavy interest from the world’s media and journalists from Japan were expected to fly in overnight.

‘Little dot in the middle’
“It’s significant that our little island, this dot in the middle of the Pacific, is the centre of the world,” Rabago said.

Assange was flying in from the United Kingdom via Thailand on a private jet, Rabago said.

He said it was not known exactly why the case was being heard in Saipan, but there was some speculation.

“He doesn’t want to step foot in the continental US and also Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, is the closest to Australia, aside from Guam,” Rabago said.

Reuters was reporting Assange was expected to return home to Australia after the hearing.

Rabago added that Assange probably was not able to get a court date in Guam, and there was a court date open on Saipan.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

Julian Assange . . . timeline to freedom?
Julian Assange . . . timeline to freedom? Image: NZ Herald screenshot/APR/Pacific Media Watch
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