His seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy cost British taxpayers $21 million, and the judge said he sought asylum as a “deliberate attempt to delay justice.”
By Alexander Smith
LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced by a British judge on Wednesday to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail and hiding out for seven years in England’s Ecuadorean Embassy.
Assange failed to report to a police station in June 2012 when he faced extradition to Sweden on charges of sexual assault and rape.
He claims he sought refuge because he feared subsequent extradition to the United States, where he has since been charged over a huge leak of classified American military documents.
Instead of reporting to police in 2012, Assange entered the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, gained diplomatic asylum, and remained there for the next 2,487 days.
Judge Deborah Taylor told the court it was “difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offence.”
Assange’s decision to remain in the embassy for seven years had cost the British taxpayer 6 million pounds ($21 million), largely due to the extensive police surveillance on the building.
The judge told Assange he was guilty of “exploiting your privileged position to flout the law and advertise internationally your disdain for the law of this country.”
Assange apologized unreservedly for skipping bail and his defense team argued he had done so because he was a “desperate man” who wanted to avoid extradition to the U.S., The Associated Press reported.
However, the judge noted that he has previously pleaded not guilty, and his mitigation Wednesday was only “the first recognition that you regret your actions.”
After the sentence was handed down, Assange’s supporters chanted “shame on you!” from the public gallery as he was led away. Outside the court, more demonstrators chanted, “Free, free, Julian Assange!” and held banners with messages such as, “Assange’s freedom is our freedom.”
Assange, who is Australian, faces a separate legal fight in the form of an extradition request from the U.S., where he is charged with conspiring to hack into secret files.
The allegation, which carries a maximum five-year sentence, says Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst, to hack into U.S. military intelligence files.
Manning was later arrested and sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking the trove of military intelligence records. Her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017 after seven years.
Assange will appear in court again Thursday via video link, this time to hear the extradition order, and again on June 12. The process could take up to two years and possibly longer.
Depending on the outcome and timing of Brexit, Assange could potentially take his case from the U.K. courts all the way to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg, the ultimate legal arbiter for E.U. states