London | WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was on Wednesday sentenced to 50 weeks in jail by a UK court for breaching his bail conditions.
The 47-year-old Australian national had been found guilty of breaching the UK’s Bail Act by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London last month after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he had sought refuge in 2012 following his bail over sexual assault allegations related to Sweden.
At a sentencing hearing at Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday, Judge Deborah Taylor told Assange it was difficult to envisage a more serious example of breach of bail conditions.
“By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the UK,” she said.
In a letter read to the court, Assange said he had found himself “struggling with difficult circumstances” and apologised to those who feel he had disrespected in any way.
“I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done,” he said.
His barrister Mark Summers said his client was “gripped” by fears of rendition to the US over the years because of his work with whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
“As threats rained down on him from America, they overshadowed everything,” Summers said.
As Assange was taken away from the court to the holding cells, he raised a fist in his characteristic style to his supporters in the public gallery and they responded with raised fists and shouts of “shame on you” towards the court.
The Australian national now faces US federal conspiracy charges related to one of the largest leaks of government secrets.
The UK will decide whether to extradite Assange to the US in response to allegations that he conspired with former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to download classified databases. He faces up to five years in a US prison if convicted.