WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for jumping U.K. bail

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison on Wednesday for jumping bail in Great Britain in 2012.

Assange also has separate hearing Thursday on U.S. extradition request

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail in Great Britain in 2012. (Daniel Lea-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison on Wednesday for jumping bail in Great Britain in 2012.

Judge Deborah Taylor said Wednesday that Assange merited near the maximum sentence of one year because of the seriousness of his offence.

Taylor rejected his claim for leniency based on the nearly seven years he spent in the Ecuadorian Embassy. She said Assange's seven years in the embassy had cost British taxpayers £16 million ($21 million US), and he sought asylum as a "deliberate attempt to delay justice."

The white-haired Assange stood impassively with his hands clasped while the sentence was read at London's Southwark Crown Court. His supporters in the public gallery chanted "shame on you" at the judge as Assange was led away.

Assange sought asylum in the South American country's London Embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations.

He faces a separate court hearing Thursday on a U.S. extradition request. American authorities have charged Assange with conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer system.

Earlier, Assange apologized unreservedly for skipping bail and holing up in the Ecuadorian Embassy while his lawyers argued that he had jumped bail because he was a "desperate man" fearing extradition to the United States.

In a letter read by attorney Mark Summers, Assange said he found himself "struggling with terrifying circumstances" and did what he thought best.

The judge appeared unimpressed by Assange's written apology and his lawyer's argument. "It is essential to the rule of law that nobody is above or beyond the reach of the law," Taylor said. "Orders of the court are to be obeyed."

She pointed out that he had not surrendered "willingly" and was only facing the court because the government of Ecuador withdrew its protection last month. Assange was arrested April 11 after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation's foreign affairs to poor hygiene.

Sweden suspended its investigation into possible sexual misconduct against Assange two years ago because he was beyond their reach while he was living in the embassy. Prosecutors have said that investigation could be revived if his situation changed.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said after the sentencing that the extradition battle with the U.S. is now the "big fight" facing Assange.

"It will be a question of life and death for Mr. Assange," he said.


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