Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London on May 1, 2019. Photo by Neil Hall/EPA-EFE
May 1 (UPI) -- A British court on Wednesday sentenced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to 50 weeks in jail for skipping bail in 2012, when he began seven years of asylum at Ecuador's Embassy in London.
At the Southwark Crown Court sentencing Wednesday, Judge Deborah Taylor said he cost British taxpayers £16 million (about $21 million) while he hid away at the embassy compound. A Westminster court last month found him guilty of violating Britain's Bail Act just days after he was expelled by the Ecuadorian Embassy and his asylum revoked.
Assange's attorney Mark Summers argued the 47-year-old Australian didn't want to surrender to British authorities at the time because he feared extradition to Sweden and possibly the United States. Last month, U.S. authorities unsealed an indictment that accuses Assange of conspiring with former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning to break into Defense Department computers. He faces an extradition hearing Thursday.
Summers said Assange feared being detained at the U.S. Navy prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has housed suspected terrorists for years. The attorney called Assange a "desperate man" who was afraid he'd be "kidnapped" by the United States, and had lived at the Ecuadorian Embassy "under overwhelming fear of rendition."
"It matters little whether his fears were reasonable or unreasonable," Summers said.
In a handwritten letter to the court, Assange apologized "unreservedly" for hiding at the embassy.
"I found myself struggling with terrifying circumstances. I did what I thought at the time was the best and only solution," his letter said.
British authorities secured Ecuador's Embassy during the seven-year stay -- as Assange mocked them from inside, Taylor said.
Assange's father has asked British authorities to return him to Australia. He said in an interview last month the Ecuadorians made a deal with the United States -- to expel Assange in London in exchange for a loan through the International Monetary Fund, The Washington Post reported.