UPDATED: Where the hell is Saipan and what does it have to do with Julian Assange?

UPDATED: Where the hell is Saipan and what does it have to do with Julian Assange?

UPDATED: Now that Julian Assange has set foot on Saipan – the microscopic Micronesian volcanic island and capital of the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean – it will now be better known as the location of what is his final court hearing.

Julian Assange arrives at the US Federal Court in Saipan alongside Australia’s US ambassador Kevin Rudd: The Guardian YouTube channel

Tourism chief welcomes Saipan media frenzy

Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Christopher Concepcion said Assange appearance was unexpected and he expects it to attract more tourists to the area.

“As they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” he said. “I do think that because of the massive attention Saipan is getting, we will be seeing an increase in media inquiries and visits in the immediate future.”

As we first reported yesterday, sunbathers, snorkellers and scuba divers are drawn to the island of Saipan, the largest and most developed island of The Marianas. Plus, there are an array of other attractions including restaurants, hotels, nightspots, shopping and golf courses. Several of the golf courses, two of which were designed by Australian Greg Norman, have fabulous sea views and cliff-side holes.

Saipan is part of the Northern Mariana Islands commonwealth of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean. In 2020, the US Census Bureau estimated the population of Saipan to be 43,385, a decline of 10 per cent from its 2010 count of 48,220. The other islands are Tinian and Rota.

It is summer year-round on this tiny Pacific island which holds a Guinness World Record for the most consistent temperatures on earth with a low of 19.6 and a high of 31.4.

A scene of several WWII battles, this Micronesian volcanic island is also home to many tourist attractions including a famous grotto. This underwater limestone cavern is a favourite for scuba divers and is the No.1 tourist attraction. There are also tidal pools and swim platforms and plenty of snorkelling opportunities on Micro Beach, Obyan Beach, Pau Pau Beach, walk or on soft sandbar islands at Micro Beach or collect shells at Wing Beach. Mount Tapochao offers panoramic views over the entire island.

The Grotto Dive Site, the island’s No.1 tourist attraction. Image: Instagram

Other attractions include Suicide Cliff, an historic site which commemorates the Marianas Campaign of World War II. The Japanese Peace Memorial, Korean Peace Memorial and Banzai Cliff are also nearby, as are cliffs riddles with bunkers and trenches. The islands are popular for both Japanese and Koreans as well as Americans.

The island was once home to ancient Chamorro and Carolinian civilisations and evidence of their culture can be seen in archaeological remains such as the pictographs in Kalabera Cave and the remnants of villages at Agingan Beach. Agingan is also the site of the wreck of a 17th century Spanish galleon.

Garapanis, the main tourist district on the island, offers a variety of restaurants, bars, shops and street stalls.

Star Marianas Air services the archipelago.

The Assange background

Court documents for the Northern Mariana Islands show that US prosecutors filed criminal paperwork against Assange outlining a single criminal count of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents.

Assange boarded a flight from Stansted Airport to Bangkok after being releases from Belmarsh prison. A connecting flight on a private jet carrying Assange and a team of lawyers touched down in Saipan at 6.16am AEST.

Assange was then processed by security at 7.40am AEST and is due to face court in the US territory at 9am where he will plead guilty to a single felony charge of conspiring to obtain and distribute classified information, before heading home to Australia.

In 2010 the WikiLeaks leader released hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with thousands of diplomatic cables.

The release was the largest security breach of its kind in US military history. The hearing is scheduled to take place tomorrow with Assange due to be sentenced to 62 months’ already served, some in Belmarsh Prison in the UK. He has already left the UK, via London’s Stansted Airport. Assange’s destination has not yet been disclosed.

Image: US Department of Justice


Feature image: Let’s Go Diving Saipan.

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