The legal issues surrounding the Wikileaker co-founder Julian Assange continued on Wednesday after he arrived in a British courtroom from Belmarsh high security prison.
The 47-year-old Australian was found guilty in the Southwark Crown Court of breaching the Bail Act, and has been sentenced to 50 weeks in jail.
It comes after Assange was arrested last month, when British police entered the Ecuadorian Embassy and dragged him out, after a seven year stalemate.
Ever since June 2012 Assange had remained holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, central London, after he fled there after losing his final plea to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he had faced allegations of raping a woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm in August 2010 – charges he always denied.
The BBC has now reported that Assange said he had found himself “struggling with difficult circumstances”, in a letter read to the court.
Assange reportedly also apologised to those who “consider I’ve disrespected them.”
“I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done,” he was quoted by the BBC as saying.
But this did not persuade Judge Deborah Taylor, who told Assange it was difficult to envisage a more serious example of the offence.
“By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the UK,” the British judge said.
The defence counsel for Assange said that he “gripped” by fears of rendition to the US over the years because of his work with whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.
“As threats rained down on him from America, they overshadowed everything,” Mark Summers QC reportedly said.
As Assange was taken down to the cells, he raised a fist in defiance to his supporters in the public gallery.
Assange had always known he faced the British lesser charge of skipping bail in 2012. But he also faces extradition to the United States.
Assange always felt the Swedish charges (dropped in 2015) were a ruse and that he would then be sent to the US and put on trial for releasing secret American documents.
He faces a possible five year prison sentence in the US.
Julian Assange was the editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, the website which gained notoriety in 2012 when it published US military and diplomatic documents which were leaked by intelligence analyst Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning).
Until his arrest, the UK had been caught in the middle of a worldwide legal battle, as it had a legal obligation to extradite Assange to face US federal conspiracy charges, but couldn’t enter the embassy of a foreign nation.
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