Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been handed a 50-week jail sentence today for skipping bail.
The sentencing of the 47-year-old at Southwark Crown Court follows his arrest at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last month, having had his asylum removed by the South American country’s president.
He had been living in the embassy for almost seven years, claiming asylum while on police bail in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual offence charges, which he denied and have since been dropped.
In an attempt to mitigate his sentence, Assange wrote a letter to the court saying: “I apologise unreservedly to those who consider that I have disrespected them by the way I pursued my case.
“I found myself struggling with difficult circumstances. I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done. I regret the course that that has taken.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, Wikileaks said: “Julian Assange’s sentence is as shocking as it is vindictive. We have grave concerns as to whether he will receive a fair extradition hearing in the UK.”
Sending Assange down for 50 weeks, Judge Deborah Taylor told him: “It’s difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offence.”
She later added: “By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the UK.”
Assange, an Australian national, also faces extradition to the US after authorities charged him with allegedly conspiring with former US military analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a US government computer to obtain secret information in March 2010.
At the time of his arrest, Met Police said he had been detained “on behalf of the United States authorities” under an extradition warrant.
At court today, Mark Summers QC said his client Assange had been “gripped” by fears of rendition to the US over his work at Wikileaks.
He said: “As threats rained down on him from America, they overshadowed everything as far as he was concerned.
“They dominated his thoughts. They were not invented by him, they were gripping him throughout.”
This was no “figment of his imagination”, the lawyer said, citing examples where Sweden sent people to states where they were “at significant risk of ill-treatment, including torture and death”.
But the judge found that the background to the case was being used as mitigation “rather than as any reasonable excuse” for Assange‘s failure to surrender.
Supporters of Assange shouted “shame on you” at the court as he was taken away to the cells following his sentencing.
Prosecutors in Sweden are also considering whether to reopen the sexual assault case against Assange, which was dropped in May 2017.
Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire