Julian Assange passionately kisses wife and waves to supporters after landing back in Australia

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has arrived in his home country Australia to be reunited with his wife and children as a free man.

The 52-year-old landed in the capital Canberra on Wednesday after an extraordinary few days following his release from Belmarsh prison in London.

Assange was seen passionately kissing his wife Stella after stepping off a plane at the city's airport.

The Wikileaks founder earlier held up a fist in the air to applause and shouts of "welcome home" from his supporters.

They could also be heard shouting "Thank you Julian" and "We love you Julian".

Assange later hugged his father John Shipton before entering a Royal Australian Air Force base.

As it happened: Assange welcomed back to Australia

His freedom comes after he pleaded guilty to one count of espionage as part of a deal with US authorities.

Assange entered the plea in a court in the US territory of Saipan in the Pacific earlier today.

He was sentenced to time served - the 62 months he has already spent in Belmarsh prison - according to court documents.

The US dropped 17 other espionage charges against him.

Assange left the UK on Monday evening and flew to Saipan via Bangkok after the plea deal was signed on Wednesday 19 June.

The case began after American prosecutors alleged Assange put lives at risk when he helped former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files Wikileaks put online in 2010.

In the following years, a lengthy legal battle took place in the UK over his extradition to the US, which included him entering the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012 and staying there until his detention in Belmarsh prison began in 2019.

Assange was also accused of rape and sexual assault against two women in 2010.

However, the statute of limitations expired on one of those allegations in 2015, while he was living in the Ecuadorean embassy, and the Swedish prosecutor dropped the rape investigation in 2017.

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A news conference was held at the East Hotel in Canberra after Assange's arrival - but the Wikileaks founder did not attend.

Mrs Assange told those gathered that her husband would not speak publicly until a "time of his choosing" because he "needs to recuperate".

She said: "Julian needs time to recover, to get used to freedom. You have to understand what he's been through.

"He needs time, he needs to recuperate."

Mrs Assange also said she felt "overcome by emotion" after her husband stepped foot on Australian soil.

Asked if she believes Assange could be pardoned for his crime, she said: "I think he will be pardoned if the press unite to push back against this precedent.

"It affects all of you and your future ability to inform the public and publish without fear."

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Mrs Assange said her husband's release would not have happened without the intervention of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been increasingly vocal in demands for the US to drop its charges against Assange.

Mr Albanese has confirmed he spoke with Assange on the phone after his plane landed to "welcome him home".

The leaks that led to Assange being charged detailed thousands of civilian deaths as a result of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and implicated American armed forces in the killing of innocent bystanders - including a father and two Reuters journalists during an air strike on Baghdad in July 2007.

Mr Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson told the news conference it was acknowledged in court today that there was "no evidence of any actual harm" caused by the leaks.

She said the public interest in publishing the information was "clear", as it included evidence of war crimes, the extent of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and torture across the world.

"To suggest this is not in the public interest... I don't understand the basis on which you could possibly suggest that," she added.

Earlier, Assange's US lawyer Barry Pollock said outside court, following the plea hearing, that the WikiLeaks founder "suffered tremendously in his fight for free speech".

Mr Pollack said: "The prosecution of Julian Assange is unprecedented in the 100 years of the Espionage Act, it has never been used by the United States to pursue a publisher, a journalist, like Mr Assange.

"Mr Assange revealed truthful, important and newsworthy information, including revealing that the United States had committed war crimes, and he has suffered tremendously in his fight for free speech, for freedom of the press, and to ensure that the American public and the world community gets truthful and important, newsworthy information."

He added that they "firmly believe that Mr Assange never should have been charged under the Espionage Act".

Mr Assange will pay half a million US dollars (£394,000) for the chartered flight on which he left the UK on Monday.

He was accompanied by a WikiLeaks lawyer, a representative of the Australian government and a medic to check on his health.

A crowdfunding campaign has already raised over £310,000 towards the cost.