After more than 13 years in England, including five years spent in prison, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday pleaded guilty in the Northern Mariana Islands, a far-flung U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific, and walked out of court a free man.

But the deal reached by Assange, an Australian citizen who from 2010 published hundreds of thousands of confidential U.S. documents on the whistle-blowing website, could set a worrying precedent.

After his release earlier this week from a high-security British prison, the 52-year-old traveled to the Northern Mariana Islands to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate national defense information.