Whistleblower Chelsea Manning has thanked her countless supporters and US President Barack Obama for commuting her sentence ahead of her release from prison next week.
Manning, who is transgender, was sentenced to a 35-year prison term for disclosing classified military information to website Wikileaks, and has served time in a men-only military prison where she was denied resources to help her gender transition.
She has reportedly attempted suicide several times while imprisoned, but in January President Obama said Manning had taken responsibility for her crime and granted Manning clemency.
Manning said for the first time, she “can see a future for myself as Chelsea.”
“I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world,” Manning said.
“Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periods of solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts.”
Manning added that while in prison, she sought comfort in letters she received from transgender people, veterans and politicians.
“My spirits were lifted in dark times, reading of their support, sharing in their triumphs, and helping them through challenges of their own,” she said.
“I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others.”
Freedom was only a dream, and hard to imagine. Now it's here! You kept me alive <3 https://t.co/abkGoA3fOi
— Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) May 9, 2017
Manning’s lawyers, Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, said in a joint statement she had already served a longer sentence than any US whistleblower in history.
“It has been far too long, too severe, too draconian. President Obama’s act of commutation was the first time the military took care of this soldier who risked so much to disclose information that served the public interest,” they said.
“We are delighted that Chelsea can finally begin to enjoy the freedom she deserves. And we thank the many, many people and organizations who have supported her and continue to support her as we fight in her appeal to clear her name.”
Chase Strangio from the American Civil Rights Group said the group hopes Manning “will find the space, love, and support to heal and build a life of her choosing.”
“Her fight to be herself, to access the medical care that she needed, and to gain her freedom have transformed law and society for the better,” he said.
Manning is expected to be released on May 17, which is recognised around the world as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.