The day before a court hearing planned for Thursday on the U.S. Justice Department’s request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, a British judge sentenced him to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail seven years ago, when he first took refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
“What is at stake there? It could be a question of life and death for Mr. Assange.”
—Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks
The sentencing on Wednesday came nearly three weeks after the Ecuadorian government revoked the journalist and publisher’s asylum status, and allowed British authorities to arrest Assange and forcibly drag him out of the embassy—moves that were immediately criticized by rights advocates, reporters, political leaders, and whistleblowers across the globe.
WikiLeaks, in a series of tweets Wednesday, called the sentence “shocking” and “vindictive.”
Assange, who is being held in London’s Belmarsh Prison, submitted a letter of apology to the Southwark Crown Court that was read aloud by his attorney Mark Summers.
The letter detailed the decision Assange had to make in 2012, when he faced possible extradition to Sweden—which dropped its request last year—or the United States.
I apologize unreservedly to those who consider that I have disrespected them by the way I have pursued my case. This is not what I wanted or intended.
I found myself struggling with terrifying circumstances for which neither I nor those from whom I sought advice could work out any remedy. I did what I thought at the time was the best and perhaps the only thing that could be done—which I hoped might lead to a legal resolution being reached between Ecuador and Sweden that would protect me from the worst of my fears.
I regret the course that this took; the difficulties were instead compounded and impacted upon very many others. While the difficulties I now face may have become even greater, nevertheless it is right for me to say this now.
Despite Assange’s apology, Judge Deborah Taylor handed down nearly the maximum sentence allowed.