A British court sentenced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to 50 weeks for skipping bail. The activist also faces a court hearing on extradition to Washington where he is wanted for “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.”
The Southwark Crown Court in London on Wednesday sentenced Assange to almost a year for “violating bail conditions.”Last month, he was formally convicted of skipping bail in the UK in 2012 when he was wanted over a rape allegation in Sweden (the case was later dropped).
Judge Deborah Taylor told the journalist that he had used bail to escape the law and expressed disdain for British justice.
In a letter read to the court, Assange said he was “struggling with circumstances” when he jumped bail.
“I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done,” he said, apologizing to all who “consider I’ve disrespected them.”
Assange was arrested on April 11 after, resisting and yelling, he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He had claimed asylum there for several years out of fear that the British authorities would hand him over to Washington.
In the US, he is charged with “conspiracy” after working with Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower who obtained classified documents that were subsequently published through WikiLeaks.
The extradition case will be decided in a separate court hearing on Thursday.
Over the years, WikiLeaks published material on the conduct of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well American diplomatic correspondence. This included a video from Baghdad showing US troops killing civilians.
Assange’s supporters hail him for championing free speech and exposing what they call abuse of power by various governments. Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, blasted Assange’s arrest, commending the journalist for “bringing to light… human rights violations” by the US.
The executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Trevor Timm, called the charges levelled against the whistleblower in the US “a serious press freedom threat” that “should be vigorously protested.” The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also weighed in, saying it was “deeply concerned” with the prosecution and warning that the conspiracy charges against Assange “could set a dangerous precedent.”
US officials, meanwhile, blasted Assange for revealing classified information. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service” in 2017 when he was the head of the CIA.