Australian lawmakers lauded the release of Julian Assange, who spent his first night in 14 years as a free man back at home in Australia on Thursday.

The country’s conservative opposition, however, cautioned the government against hailing the WikiLeaks founder as a hero.

Assange landed in Australia to an ecstatic welcome Wednesday evening after pleading guilty to violating the U.S. Espionage Act. He was then freed by a U.S. 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.

“Julian plans to swim in the ocean every day. He plans to sleep in a real bed. He plans to taste real food, and he plans to enjoy his freedom,” she told reporters Thursday.

Assange’s supporters and free speech advocates view him as a victim because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing and potential crimes, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, when WikiLeaks published thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010.

However, the U.S. government has long said his actions were reckless and by publishing the names of government sources he had put agents’ lives at risk.

Assange has not spoken publicly since being released. Overnight, a judge in the U.S. state of Virginia formally dismissed all charges outstanding against him.

Australian lawmakers had called for Assange’s release for several years, and his case was a rare point of tension in bilateral relations with the United States.

“For some time now, the incarceration of Julian Assange was a thorn in the side of that relationship, it was just niggling away on the margins,” said independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie, co-chair of a parliamentary committee that advocated for Assange’s release.

“That has now been fixed, so I now see reason to be very optimistic about the bilateral relationship. That thorn has been pulled out,” he told reporters.

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 as well as to the U.S., where he faced 18 criminal charges tied to WikiLeaks’ release of the classified U.S. documents.

‘No martyr’

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who supported Assange’s release years before taking office in 2022, welcomed him home in a phone call. He said 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 but said the WikiLeaks founder was “no martyr” for the mass data leak.

“That wasn’t an act of journalism. It wasn’t like these were edited or curated documents. It was simply a data dump, a data dump from a leak and a data dump that came with consequences for the U.S. in terms of how they managed their operations and their officials because of the safety risks that were created,” he told Reuters in an interview.

He cautioned Albanese against meeting Assange and said the celebration of his release was likely to lead to disquiet among some members of the U.S. Congress.

“I do suspect that there are a few people in the Congress and elsewhere who would raise an eyebrow and think it inappropriate for Anthony Albanese to so publicly and personally welcome Julian Assange back to Australia,” he said.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong told ABC Radio Assange’s release posed no threat to Australia-U.S. ties.

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday said its involvement in the resolution of Assange’s case was very limited and reiterated its position that his actions had put lives at risk although the U.S. judge who accepted his guilty plea said there had been no personal victim.

The White House was not in any way involved in the case, national security spokesman John Kirby said, adding it was a Department of Justice matter.

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