London, May 1 (IANS) A British court on Wednesday sentenced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to 50 weeks in prison for violating bail conditions in 2012 to avoid a Swedish extradition request.
Assange appeared at the Southwark Crown Court in London where he was sentenced to serve the prison term. He was already declared guilty of the offence on April 11, the day he was arrested after spending seven years holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
He took refuge in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he has denied.
In a letter read to the court, Assange said he had found himself “struggling with difficult circumstances”, according to the BBC. He apologised to those who “consider I’ve disrespected them”, a packed Southwark Crown Court heard.
“I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done,” he said.
In sentencing him, Judge Deborah Taylor told Assange it was difficult to envisage a more serious example of the offence. “By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the UK,” she said.
In mitigation, Mark Summers QC had said his client was “gripped” by fears of rendition to the US over the years because of his work with whistleblowing website Wikileaks. “As threats rained down on him from America, they overshadowed everything,” he said.
As Assange was taken to the cell, he raised a fist in defiance to his supporters in the public gallery behind him. They raised their fists in solidarity and directed shouts of “shame on you” towards the court.
The WikiLeaks founder is also facing a Thursday extradition hearing over a criminal charge in the US. He has been charged with helping former army intelligence specialist Chelsea Manning obtain access to the US Defence Department computers in 2010 to reveal secret government documents.
The UK will decide whether to extradite Assange to the US in response to the allegations. He faces up to five years in a US prison if convicted.
Wikileaks had published thousands of classified documents, covering everything from the film industry to national security and war.