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By Alexander Smith
LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced by a British judge on Wednesday to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail in England and hiding out for seven years in the country’s Ecuadorean Embassy.
Assange, 47, failed to report to a police station on June 29, 2012, when he was fighting extradition to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault and rape. Instead, he fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London where he spent the next 2,487 days.
Last month, Ecuador withdrew Assange’s diplomatic asylum, and he was arrested by British police. He pleaded not guilty to a charge of failing to surrender to police, relating to his flight in 2012, but he was convicted at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
On Wednesday, he was sentenced at London’s Southwark Crown Court to 50 weeks in prison.
He apologized unreservedly for skipping bail and his defense team argued he had done so because he was a “desperate man” who wanted to avoid extradition to the United States, The Associated Press reported.
However, Judge Deborah Taylor said the defendant merited what was almost the maximum sentence of one year, according to the AP. His seven years in the embassy cost British taxpayers 16 million pounds ($21 million), and the judge added that he sought asylum as a “deliberate attempt to delay justice.”
Assange’s supporters chanted “shame on you!” from the public gallery while he was led away. Outside the court, more demonstrators chanted, “Free, free, Julian Assange!” and held banners with messages such as, “Assange’s freedom is our freedom.”
Assange, who is Australian, faces a separate legal fight in the form of an extradition request from the U.S., where he is charged with conspiring to hack into secret files.
The allegation, which carries a maximum five-year sentence, says Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst, to hack into U.S. military intelligence files.
Manning was later arrested and sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking the trove of military intelligence records. Her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017 after seven years.
Assange will appear in court again Thursday via video link, this time to hear the extradition order, and again on June 12. The process could take up to two years and possibly longer.
Depending on the outcome and timing of Brexit, Assange could potentially take his case from the U.K. courts all the way to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg, the ultimate legal arbiter for E.U. states.