London, May 1: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced by a London court to 50 weeks in jail for breaching bail conditions, after he submitted a letter to the court, apologising to those who “consider I’ve disrespected them”.
The sentence at the Southwark Crown Court was about Assange’s bail conditions, while he faces another hearing in the extradition case at the Westminster Magistrates Court on Thursday brought by United States, where he is wanted to face charges of breaching secrecy laws.
Assange, 47, was found guilty of breaching bail laws after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy on April 11. He took refuge in the country’s London embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he has denied.
In the letter read to the court, Assange said he had found himself “struggling with difficult circumstances”, adding “I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done.”
Judge Deborah Taylor set out three features of the case that make it “exceptional in seriousness”.
She told Assange: “Firstly, by entering the Embassy, you deliberately put yourself out of reach, whilst remaining in the UK. You remained there for nearly 7 years, exploiting your privileged position to flout the law and advertise internationally your disdain for the law of this country. Your actions undoubtedly affected the progress of the Swedish proceedings”.
“Even though you did co-operate initially, it was not for you to decide the nature or extent of your co-operation with the investigations. They could not be effectively progressed, and were discontinued, not least because you remained in the Embassy”.
“Secondly, your continued residence in the Embassy has necessitated a concentration of resources, and expenditure of £16 million of taxpayers’ money in ensuring that when you did leave, you were brought to justice. It is essential to the rule of law that nobody is above or beyond the reach of the law. Orders of the Court are to be obeyed.
“Thirdly, you have not surrendered willingly. Had the Government of Ecuador not permitted entry to the Embassy, you would not have voluntarily come before the court”.
Assange arrived at the court from the Belmarsh prison, as photographers and reports saw him defiantly pumping his fist. The sentence of 50 weeks is the maximum imposed under Britain’s bail laws.
Assange is also likely to face allegations of sexual assault in Sweden, where prosecutors said they were considering reopening the investigation against him. Assange has said he had consensual sex with two women while on a trip to Stockholm to give a lecture. (Hindustan Times)