Former WikiLeaker-in-chief Julian Assange has been sentenced to 11 months in prison after jumping bail and fleeing into Ecuador's London embassy for more than seven years.
Delivering sentence at Southwark, her honour Judge Deborah Taylor said: "Your continued residency [in Ecuador's London embassy] has cost £16m of taxpayers' money. No one is above the reach of the law."
Announcing her sentence of 50 weeks – two weeks short of the maximum punishment she could impose – HHJ Taylor said: "It's difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offence."
“I have taken into account all that has been said on your behalf in mitigation, including the background history of this case which has been set out in some detail,” said HHJ Taylor as she summed up the case against Assange.
“Whilst you may have had fears as to what may happen to you, nonetheless you had a choice, and the course of action you chose was to commit this offence in the manner and with the features I have already outlined. In addition, I reject the suggestion that your voluntary residence in the Embassy should reduce any sentence. You were not living under prison conditions, and you could have left at any time to face due process with the rights and protections which the legal system in this country provides.”
Assange's barrister, Mark Summers, told the court that Assange had feared "further removal to Sweden and the US" if he was jailed in the UK – a fear that, ironically, is now coming to pass with tomorrow’s scheduled extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.
"He feared being kidnapped wherever he was in the world and taken to US, renditioned. There were calls for his execution and assassination," said Summers, adding: "As a result of those actions and the limited choices he had to protect himself against that risk, he has suffered great consequences, he has spent seven years in confined conditions that may or may not be equated to that of prison."
Sporting a trimmed beard and neater haircut than in the famous footage and pictures of him being dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy, Assange himself sat blank-faced, locked in the dock, as the lawyers argued for and against him.
Expressing remorse, Assange had also written a letter to the judge, which was handed up to her in court and read out.
Assange apologises unreservedly for how he has pursued his case. "I found myself struggling through terrifying circumstances... I did what I thought at the time was best... which I hope will lead to a legal resolution between Ecuador and Sweden."— Jordan Milne (@JEMilneSky) May 1, 2019
The longest sentence that the one-time cupboard-dweller could have faced is 12 months in prison. Under current British sentencing laws, that would have been automatically halved in any event.
Assange will spend a maximum of 22 weeks in prison. Having spent almost three weeks (20 days) on remand, that time is deducted from his full sentence.
It is unlikely that he will be released from British custody while the US extradition proceedings against him are ongoing, having already presented himself as a flight risk to the British authorities.
Assange's supporters chanted "shame on you" as the Australian was led to the cells. He will appear in custody at Westminster Magistrates' Court tomorrow to begin his extradition battle against the US authorities. ®