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Julian Assange sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for bail breach

Protesters outside the court where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appears before it, in London on May 1, 2019.   | Photo Credit: AP

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden over sexual assault charges, has been sentenced to 50 weeks in jail – just under the maximum possible sentence of 12 months - for flouting bail conditions by a court in London.

It comes ahead of a hearing due to take place later this week at Westminster Magistrates Court as part of efforts to extradite him to the U.S.

 

During the sentencing hearing at Southwark Crown Court, Judge Deborah Taylor rejected arguments by defence barrister Mark Summers (who led the prosecution team in the Vijay Mallya extradition proceedings) that Mr. Assange had been gripped by a well-founded fear of potential extradition to the U.S. (and thence on to Guantanamo Bay) when he sought refuge in the Embassy in 2012. The U.S. Justice Department has charged Mr. Assange with conspiring with Chelsea Manning, the former intelligence analyst, to break into a classified US government computer by cracking a Department of Defence password.

Judge Taylor told the court that it was difficult to find a “more serious example” of breach of bail conditions. “This was in terms of culpability a deliberate attempt to evade or delay justice.” Mr. Assange had had a “choice” to enter and remain within the Embassy in circumstances that did not amount to prison condition.

“You remained there for nearly seven years, exploiting your privileged position to flout the law and advertise internationally your disdain for the law of this country... You could have left at any time to face due process with the rights and protection which the legal system in this country provides.”

His residence had cost the U.K. tax payer £16 million, while proceedings in Sweden were discontinued because of his action, she concluded. “Even though you did cooperate initially, it was not for you to decide the nature of extent of your cooperation with the investigations,’ she told the court.

Swedish investigation

The defence team had contended that Mr. Assange and his Swedish legal team had been “proactive” in attempting to progress the Swedish investigation, including by facilitating an interview with him in the U.K. They had also argued that as a result of the confinement in the Embassy Mr. Assange had suffered “significant consequences” himself that were “punitive, significant and enduring in their nature”.

 

Mr. Assange sought and was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 after his appeal to the U.K. Supreme Court was rejected, and a warrant was issued for his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual offending, including rape.

However, in April — as relations between Mr. Assange and Ecuadorian authorities broke down amid accusations and counter-accusations — the asylum was revoked and Metropolitan Police officers were invited into the Embassy to arrest Mr. Assange on April 11.

The Home Office confirmed the arrest had taken place in relation to the provisional extradition request from the U.S. Later that day, Mr. Assange was convicted of breaking bail conditions relating to the Swedish allegations, to which he pleaded not guilty.

 

Supporters of Mr. Assange gathered inside and outside the court room to protest the legal proceedings, while WikiLeaks described the sentence as “shocking” and “vindictive”. “We have grave concerns as to whether he will receive a fair extradition hearing in the U.K.,” the whistleblowing organisation said in a statement.

The issue of Mr. Assange’s extradition to the U.S. has become the subject of political debate in the U.K., with Labour expressing its opposition to those effort. In April, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said Mr. Assange was being pursued by the U.S. not to protect U.S. national security but because he had “exposed wrongdoing by US administrations and their military forces...” these whistleblowing activities about illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians, and corruption on a grand scale have put Julian Assange in the crosshairs of the US Administration,” she told the House of Commons.


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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 1:27:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/julian-assange-sentenced-to-50-weeks-in-prison-for-bail-breach/article27001304.ece

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