WASHINGTON – A London judge on Wednesday sentenced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to nearly a year in jail for jumping bail and eluding authorities in an embassy for seven years.
Judge Deborah Taylor did not buy Assange’s claims that he hid in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years to avoid “kidnap and torture” by U.S. officials. She called his defense “unrealistic.”
“By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the U.K.,” she admonished him, according to published reports.
By doing so, she told Assange that he “exploited your privileged position to flout the law.”
London police dragged a disheveled-looking Assange, 47, from the embassy on April 11. Embassy officials had terminated his asylum, telling authorities he had worn out his welcome and was showing signs of mental instability. The Australian native had lived at the embassy since August 2012. Foreign Minister Jose Valencia told reporters that Assange’s Ecuadorian citizenship, which had been granted to him in January 2018, was suspended.
Assange was found guilty of violating his bail terms on April 12. He had skipped bail on sexual-assault charges in Sweden and sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face the charges. Sweden dropped the charges in 2017 but he remained at the embassy.
On Wednesday in court Assange read a letter in which he apologized for jumping bail.
“I apologize unreservedly to those who consider that I have disrespected by the way I pursued my case. I found myself struggling with difficult circumstances.
“I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done. I regret the course that that has taken,” according to published reports.
His 50-week sentence was just a few weeks shy of the maximum possible sentence.
Assange has a hearing scheduled for Thursday concerning possible extradition to the U.S. to face charges of conspiring with then-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack Pentagon computers. WikiLeaks published thousands of pages of hacked classified material from the Department of Defense.
Assange faces up to five years in prison, if convicted on those charges.
Manning served 7 years for leaking classified information to Assange but has been in federal custody again for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury.