- WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, has been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in the UK for breaching bail conditions.
- He faces a separate court hearing Thursday over extradition to the US. The extradition request relates to charges of attempting to hack classified US government computers.
- Assange was arrested in March and removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had claimed political asylum for almost seven years.
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WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, has been sentenced to 50 weeks in British prison for breaching bail conditions in the UK and avoiding extradition to Sweden seven years ago.
Assange received the sentence at London’s Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday.
His hearing came just under three weeks after his dramatic expulsion and arrest at the Ecuadorean Embassy in west London. The South American country gave him political asylum in 2012 and housed him in the embassy for 6 1/2 years.
He faces a separate court hearing over extradition to the US on Thursday. The US requested his extradition earlier this month and charged him with attempts to hack classified US government computers, in a document that named the former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
The Australian national arrived to court by prison van, sporting a neatly trimmed beard and holding up a fist in a defiant pose. His appearance was a stark contrast to his disheveled look as he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy earlier this month.
Since his arrest he has been housed in HMP Belmarsh, a notorious prison in southeastern London previously referred to as “Britain’s Guántanamo Bay.”
WikiLeaks tweeted after Wednesday’s sentencing: “Julian Assange’s sentence is as shocking as it is vindictive. We have grave concerns as to whether he will receive a fair extradition hearing in the UK.”
There had been a warrant issued for Assange’s arrest in the UK since June 29, 2012, after he failed to appear in court to face charges of sexual misconduct in Sweden, which he denies.
Though Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation against him in 2017, he was also wanted for breaching his prior bail conditions in the UK.
Assange’s lawyer argued in court on Wednesday that Assange feared extradition to the US during his stay in the Ecuadorean Embassy, according to the Deutsche Welle correspondent Charlotte Potts and the Sky News producer Jordan Milne, who were both at the hearing.
Assange asked for leniency, saying that his nearly-seven-year stay in the embassy was like being in prison, the Associated Press reported.
But Judge Deborah Taylor rejected his claim for leniency, telling him, according to Milne: “You were not living under prison conditions – you could have left at any time.”
Prosecutors in the US are said to have discussed a variety of charges they could bring against Assange. While the exact charges are unclear, they may involve the Espionage Act, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Assange and WikiLeaks are also at the center of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.
Ecuador revoked Assange’s political asylum and expelled him from its London embassy on April 11, alleging a litany of bad behaviour during his stay. British authorities arrested and detained him that same day.
Lenín Moreno, Ecuador’s president, called Assange a “spoiled brat” hours after his arrest.
According to the country’s officials, Assange breached the conditions of his stay numerous times, committing infractions including installing prohibited electronic equipment, accessing the embassy’s security files, ruining their floors with his skateboard, and smearing faeces on the wall of a bathroom in the building.
Supporters of Assange gathered outside Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday, with some carrying signs saying “No extradition” and “Hands off Assange: Don’t shoot the messenger.”
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