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EXCLUSIVE: Stella Moris kept her relationship with Julian Assange secret. Until she had no choice.

Stella Assange (née Moris) comes across as a reserved person. Quiet. Private. Considered. The kind who comfortably uses silences to organise her thoughts. The kind who, in her words, doesn't like being in the foreground.

"It's not my natural place," she told Mamamia in 2021. "It's not something I gravitate towards."

For almost a decade now, the lawyer has become an advocate for perhaps the most famous prisoner on the planet, WikiLeaks founder and Julian Assange

In 2006, Australian-born Assange founded WikiLeaks, a non-profit media organisation and publisher of leaked documents. 

In 2010, WikiLeaks posted a classified US military video of a US helicopter firing on and killing two journalists and several Iraqi civilians. Then, WikiLeaks posted more than 90,000 classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan, much of which showcased the US Government's wrongdoing in the region.

For 14 years now, the US Government has been trying to convict Assange on espionage charges, relating to his involvement in obtaining and publishing the secret American military and diplomatic documents. If convicted, he would have faced up to 175 years behind bars.

"Julian should never be extradited because he was doing his job as a journalist," Stella told Mamamia. "This has to come to an end. Julian has to be freed."

Now this week, Julian is a free man and he's on his way back to Australia. 

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It's a momentous occasion, one that Stella has been fighting for desperately for a very long time — not just as part of Assange's legal team, but also in her role as Assange's wife and the mother of his two youngest children.

Watch: Julian Assange is now a free man. Post continues below.


Video via CNN.

When Stella met Julian.

Stella Assange's investment in Assange's situation, and her willingness to step into the international spotlight, is a tangle of the ideological, professional, and deeply personal.

It was in the first eight years of her life, while living primarily in Botswana, that Stella began to develop her sense of social justice. Her upbringing also saw her live in Lesotho, Sweden and Spain, but it was her education that took her to the United Kingdom. 

Armed with a bachelor's degree in law and politics, a master's from Oxford and fluency in Swedish, she was recruited to Assange's legal team as a researcher in 2011.

She was also an admirer of his renegade brand of journalism. 

Stella and Assange's relationship was forged in secret during the seven years he spent in political asylum in London's Ecuadorian embassy, sheltering out of reach of foreign authorities.

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The then 28-year-old worked on the case fighting the Australian's extradition from the UK to Sweden, where he'd been accused of sexually assaulting two women after a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm the previous year.

Assange, who firmly denied the allegations, feared returning to Sweden would pave an easier path for extradition to the US where authorities wanted to convict him of espionage. Years later prosecutors in Sweden dropped an investigation into the rape allegation made against Assange.

In a bid not to be extradited, Assange disguised himself as a motorbike courier and walked up the steps of London's Ecuadorian embassy on June 19, 2012, rang the bell and requested asylum. 

For the next seven years, there he stayed, at a reported cost to the South American nation of AU$9.2 million.

It was in 2015, within the confines of his tiny living quarters, that Stella's feelings for Assange — a man whom she described as "intelligent, eloquent, and brave" — shifted from the professional to the romantic. 

As a Spanish speaker, she became a go-to person for meetings between him and the embassy staff. 

"I just enjoyed spending time with him. He's funny, and he loves to explore ideas, and he's just a very interesting person to have a conversation with... As a man, he was just very attractive on every level," she said.

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"But he's always been very protective of his privacy, protective of his family, and he was in a very difficult position. I think it took a while for him to know who to trust. It took years to really get to know him."

Julian Assange and Stella Assange when she was working on their legal team. Image: Supplied.

There was, also for Stella, a hesitation. A voice in her head questioning the virtues of embarking on a relationship with a man effectively imprisoned, with legal battles waging in multiple countries.

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"Obviously, it's not the easiest of circumstances," she said. "If I could choose, then I would have met him under different circumstances and we would have just been quite a boring, normal couple. Going on dates, taking a stroll; the whole package.

"You just have to try to chart your own path, together. And we did that."

Stella Assange on deciding to have kids with Julian Assange.

Out of fears for Stella's security, they kept the relationship secret from all but a select few, using private corners of the embassy apartment in which to be affectionate, out of the view of the many security cameras.

When they later decided to have children, Stella stressed to Mamamia, Assange's legal situation looked optimistic. The Swedish sexual assault investigation had been dropped, and it appeared there was no reason for him to remain under the embassy's protection for much longer.

"It seemed like we would be able to live our lives as a family," she said.

Still, they took precautions. When she fell pregnant with their eldest son, Gabriel, she shared the news with Assange by writing a note on a piece of paper and passing it to him. And when the boy was born in 2017, they enlisted the help of a trusted friend who posed as the baby's father and brought him to the embassy so Assange could spend time with his son.

But according to evidence presented during a 2020 court hearing, there were suspicions. 

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An unnamed employee of UC Global, the security firm employed by the embassy, told the court that the company had been instructed to spy on Assange for "the Americans". He claimed that along with secretly taping Assange's conversations with his lawyers and obtaining his fingerprints, there was a plot to steal one of Gabriel's dirty nappies from a bin in order to establish paternity.

Stella Moris with her and Julian's two boys, Max and Gabriel. Image: AAP. In 2021, further allegations against US intelligence emerged via a Yahoo News investigation, which featured claims from former counterintelligence officials that, the same year Gabriel was born, senior figures inside the CIA and the Trump administration mulled the possibility of kidnapping or killing Assange within the embassy, going so far as to request "sketches" or "options" for how to assassinate him. 

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Stella said that at the time both she and Assange suspected they were "prey".

"And because I was the person who was closest to Julian, I felt that I was very clearly a target. I felt that maybe they might beat me up or try to kill me or something to get to Julian because they were desperate to drive him out of the embassy."

By the time she fell pregnant with their second son, Max, Assange's relationship with the Ecuadorian government had soured significantly, due in part to suspicions the Australian had been involved in fuelling corruption allegations against new president, Lenín Moreno. 

As well as accusing Assange of turning the embassy into a "centre for spying" that risked Ecuador's relationship with other countries, the government publicly claimed that he had threatened embassy staff, skateboarded and played football inside, blasted loud music, and even smeared fecal matter on the embassy walls. Assange's lawyer described the reports as "outrageous" and "untrue".

But in April 2019, two months after Max was born, Ecuador rescinded Assange's asylum status, allowing police to storm into the embassy and haul Assange, blinking and dazed, out into the world.

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What the past five years have been like for Julian Assange.

In 2019, British authorities prosecuted Assange for skipping out on an arrest warrant relating to the Swedish case and later confirmed they had also detained him on behalf of US authorities who, by then, had built their espionage indictment.

The Americans insisted that prosecuting Assange does not mean they were targeting press freedom or freedom of expression. They say they were purely seeking justice for alleged illegal conduct that includes publishing the names of human sources, including local Afghans and Iraqis who were assisting U.S. forces... thereby causing grave and imminent risk to these individuals' lives and liberty.

However, the US Government has not identified a single person killed as a result of being named in the leaked files. 

Assange and his legal team have long argued that the US charges are politically motivated.

As the case rolled on, Assange remained in limbo in London's notoriously harsh Belmarsh Prison.

Assange after his 2019 arrest. Image: Getty. It wasn't until 2020 when Assange became imprisoned, that Stella's name hit the headlines. She'd written a letter to the courts in support of his application to be released on bail, for the sake of his mental health and due to COVID-19, which was spreading among the inmates.

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"Although an extraordinary degree of public attention has been a constant factor in Julian's existence, I have no wish to depart from my chosen way of conducting my life, quietly and uneventfully," she wrote. 

"I make this statement now only because our lives are on the brink and I fear that Julian could die."

The application was rejected.

In the period since, Stella has been compelled to step, well and truly, into the foreground in an effort to agitate for her husband's freedom. 

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Stella and Julian Assange's wedding. 

In March 2022, Stella and Assange married at Belmarsh High-Security Prison.

Stella arrived at the jail wearing a floor-length corseted lilac dress designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, and an elaborate veil embroidered with messages of love from friends.

After the wedding, Stella made an emotional speech to a crowd outside the prison. 

Fighting back tears and wearing her wedding dress, she said: "I'm very happy but I'm very sad … I wish he were here … What we're going through is inhuman. He's the most amazing person in the world and he should be free. But our love will carry us through."

The couple were allowed six guests, including Assange's two brothers and his father.

Stella and her two boys would regularly visit Assange at the prison during the five years he was incarcerated there.

Those visits, she told Mamamia, were completely surreal. Telling her children that they're going to see Daddy in his "big house". The fluorescent lights. The pat-downs. The contraband checks, in which a prison officer looks inside their mouths and behind their ears ("Max hates that," she said.)

"Now, the boys sit on his lap and, depending on the guards, they give us as a story to read. He can hug them, that kind of thing," she said in 2021.

"I tell them that their father and I love each other very much. And that Julian wants to come home. I tell them that our home is Julian's home, and that he just can't be there because there are some people keeping him in the big house."

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She continued: "There's no formula for this. There's no one I can look to and think, 'Okay, well, how did they deal with the situation?' So you just kind of have to improvise your way through it."

Stella on her wedding day. Image: AAP.

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When we asked how her mental health was during our interview, Stella paused. She looked out the window, wrestling with the answer, almost as if she hadn't really considered it until that moment. 

A full 15 seconds of silence passed before she responded. 

"I'm not sure, frankly," she said. 

"I don't think I'm giving enough time to my interior state. Mainly, I'm just really worried about Julian. I think he keeps going because he knows there's a world to come back to that's waiting for him, that's fighting for him."

For a long time, Stella remained optimistic about the eventual outcome. 

Now her hopes have come true. Assange is free.

Listen to Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, where in this episode we discuss Julian Assange's freedom. Post continues below.


Julian Assange's freedom.

This week it was revealed that Assange would plead guilty to the felony espionage charge that would allow him, with time served, to go free now.

Assange reportedly agreed to a plea deal, where he admitted guilt to one count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents. 

As a condition of his plea, he will be required to destroy information that was provided to WikiLeaks. One of the biggest debates surrounding Assange and WikiLeaks has been regarding press freedom. It appears that public debate will forever ensue. 

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It's the end of nearly two decades' worth of fighting against the extradition attempts from the US Government.

WikiLeaks and Stella posted on social media photo of Assange boarding the plane on route to freedom, with the message "Julian Assange is free."

He is now headed back home to Australia.

His parents have spoken of their relief about their son's release. Politicians across all sides of the Australian political spectrum have also sent their well wishes to Assange. 

Stella told Mamamia that she and Assange have always wanted their boys to grow up in Australia.

"He wants the kids to grow up in Australia. He wants me to experience his Australia; he wants to take me to the bush," she said. 

Stella, Max and Gabriel are now in Australia, waiting to be reunited with Assange.

In a public statement, Stella said the priority for her husband was to "get healthy again", be in touch with nature, and for the family to have "time and privacy".

She said she is "elated" by the news of his freedom, and is feeling the "whirlwind of emotions".

This article was originally published in 2021, and has since been updated with new information.

Feature Image: Supplied/Instagram @stellaassange.