A British judge has sentenced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail seven years ago and holing up in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Judge Deborah Taylor said on Wednesday it was hard to imagine a more serious version of the offence as she gave the 47-year-old Australian a sentence close to the maximum of a year in custody.
She said Assange’s seven years in the embassy had cost British taxpayers STG16 million ($29.5 million) and said 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.
His supporters in the public gallery at Southwark Crown Court chanted “Shame on you” at the judge as Assange was led away.
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.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 1, 2019
WikiLeaks tweeted that the sentence was “as shocking as it is vindictive”.
The Australian secret-spiller 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.
Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers told a courtroom packed with journalists and WikiLeaks supporters that his client sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy because “he was living with overwhelming fear of being rendered to the US.”
He said Assange had a “well-founded” fear that he would be mistreated and possibly sent to the US detention camp for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay.
Summers read a letter from Assange apologising for his behaviour in 2012 and saying “I did what I thought was best”.
“I found myself struggling with terrifying circumstances,” the letter said.
Assange was arrested on April 11 after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation’s foreign affairs to poor hygiene.
He faces a separate court hearing on Thursday on a US extradition request.
American authorities have charged Assange with conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer system.