LONDON—A British judge sentenced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday, May 1, to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail seven years ago and holing up in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Judge Deborah Taylor said it was hard to imagine a more serious version of the offense as she gave the 47-year-old hacker a sentence close to the maximum of a year in custody.
She said Assange’s seven years in the embassy had cost British taxpayers $21 million (16 million pounds) and said he sought asylum as a “deliberate attempt to delay justice.”
The white-haired Assange stood impassively with his hands clasped while the sentence was read. His supporters in the public gallery at Southwark Crown Court chanted “Shame on you” at the judge as Assange was led away.
The Australian secret-spiller sought asylum in the South American country’s London embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations.
Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers told a courtroom packed with journalists and WikiLeaks supporters that his client sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy because “he was living with overwhelming fear of being rendered to the U.S.”
He said Assange had a “well-founded” fear that he would be mistreated and possibly sent to the U.S. detention camp for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay.
Summers read a letter from Assange apologizing for his behavior in 2012 and saying “I did what I thought was best.”
“I found myself struggling with terrifying circumstances,” the letter said.
Assange was arrested April 11 after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation’s foreign affairs to poor hygiene.
US Extradition Hearing
Separately, the WikiLeaks founder is also facing a Thursday extradition hearing over a criminal charge in the U.S. He has been charged with helping former Army intelligence specialist Chelsea Manning obtain access to U.S. Defense Department computers in 2010 in order to reveal secret government documents.
The charge of one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion was kept under seal for over a year until his arrest in London three weeks ago.
Under UK law, the U.S. government has 65 days from arrest—so until June 15—to provide full extradition papers to a British district judge.
Jennifer Robinson, one of the lawyers on Assange’s legal team told CNN on Saturday: “It is a matter of international concern that a publisher is being held in a high-security prison facing extradition to the U.S. for his work that has won journalism awards the world over. We are very concerned about his health.”
Robinson added: “He is grateful for the solidarity shown around the world.”
In the weeks since his arrest, Assange has been held on remand at HMP Belmarsh in Thamesmead, southeast London.
One of the most secure facilities in England and Wales, Belmarsh prison has the capacity to hold over 900 inmates and is well known for once housing infamous terror suspects Abu Hamza al-Masri and Anjem Choudary within its high-security unit.
Andy Keen-Downs, chief executive of Pact, a rehabilitation charity that provides family services at prisons across the country, said Belmarsh receives a mixture of inmates who are allocated single or shared cells.
“In the middle of the prison is the area built for high-security prisoners,” Keen-Downs explained.
“Conditions are very basic. Prison staff work hard to keep prisoners safe, but like most prisons there are occasions when there could be violence. It could be a very intimidating atmosphere,” he continued.
The CNN Wire contributed to this report.