WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison by a British court for skipping bail when he holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy for seven years until police dragged him out last month, Reuters reports.
Assange sought refuge in the embassy in June 2012 to avoid an extradition order to Sweden over an allegation of rape, which he denies.
His lawyer argued it was an act of desperation to avoid being passed to the United States to face action over the release of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables.
Many of the documents related to wars, national security and other issues, and some were often highly critical appraisals of world leaders such Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Saudi royal family. The US has charged him with conspiracy and seeks his extradition.
But handing down what was nearly the maximum possible sentence, Judge Deborah Taylor on Wednesday told Assange he had exploited his privileged position to flout the law and express his disdain for British justice.
“Whilst you may have had fears as to what may happen to you, nonetheless you had a choice,” Taylor told Assange, dressed in a black jacket and gray sweatshirt, at Southwark Crown Court.
“It is difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offense.”
Assange made international headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
To some, Assange is a hero for exposing what supporters cast as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech. But to others, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined US security.
After his sentence was announced, supporters in the public gallery got to their feet to cheer him, before raising their arms and chanting “shame on you” to the court.
The case in Britain arose after Australian-born Assange, 47, was accused by two Swedish women of sexual assault and rape in 2010. Assange fought through the courts to get an extradition order and the preliminary investigation dropped.
He fled to Ecuador’s embassy in June 2012 after exhausting all legal options and was granted asylum two months later. The Swedish allegations were dropped in 2017, but authorities there might revive them.
Just hours after police finally removed from the Ecuadorean embassy in London on April 11, US prosecutors said they had charged Assange with conspiracy in trying to access a classified US government computer. He was convicted on the charge of jumping bail the same day.
The sentence does not end British legal proceedings. On Thursday, there will be hearing in another London court as part of a US extradition case.
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