Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

assange supporter

Protesters demonstrated in support of Julian Assange outside Southwark Crown Court in London Wednesday as the WikiLeaks founder was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for bail-jumping. (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Ahead of Key Hearing on US Extradition, Assange Gets 50 Weeks in Prison for UK Bail Violation

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson described the upcoming hearing as "the start of the big and most important fight."

Jessica Corbett

The day before a court hearing planned for Thursday on the U.S. Justice Department's request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, a British judge sentenced him to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail seven years ago, when he first took refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

"What is at stake there? It could be a question of life and death for Mr. Assange."
—Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks

The sentencing on Wednesday came nearly three weeks after the Ecuadorian government revoked the journalist and publisher's asylum status, and allowed British authorities to arrest Assange and forcibly drag him out of the embassy—moves that were immediately criticized by rights advocates, reporters, political leaders, and whistleblowers across the globe.

WikiLeaks, in a series of tweets Wednesday, called the sentence "shocking" and "vindictive."

Assange, who is being held in London's Belmarsh Prison, submitted a letter of apology to the Southwark Crown Court that was read aloud by his attorney Mark Summers.

The letter detailed the decision Assange had to make in 2012, when he faced possible extradition to Sweden—which dropped its request last year—or the United States.

I apologize unreservedly to those who consider that I have disrespected them by the way I have pursued my case. This is not what I wanted or intended.

I found myself struggling with terrifying circumstances for which neither I nor those from whom I sought advice could work out any remedy. I did what I thought at the time was the best and perhaps the only thing that could be done—which I hoped might lead to a legal resolution being reached between Ecuador and Sweden that would protect me from the worst of my fears.

I regret the course that this took; the difficulties were instead compounded and impacted upon very many others. While the difficulties I now face may have become even greater, nevertheless it is right for me to say this now.

Despite Assange's apology, Judge Deborah Taylor handed down nearly the maximum sentence allowed.

"Whilst you may have had fears as to what may happen to you, nonetheless you had a choice," Taylor reportedly told the 47-year-old Australian. "It is difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offense."

As his sentence was read, "Assange stood impassively with his hands clasped," reported The Associated Press. "His supporters in the public gallery at Southwark Crown Court cheered for him as he left and chanted 'Shame on you' at the judge as Assange was led away. He raised his fist in a show of defiance."

Taylor's decision Wednesday preceded what WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson described as "the start of the big and most important fight."

Speaking to the reporters about the upcoming extradition hearing, Hrafnsson said: "What is at stake there? It could be a question of life and death for Mr. Assange."

The Justice Department's extradition request officially comes "in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion," related to documents that Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning shared with WikiLeaks.

However, critics charge it is an "obvious" ploy to punish Assange for publishing "embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services," including "evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan," and continue to warn that his extradition would set a dangerous precedent for journalists globally.

DiEM25 and Demokratie in Europa are planning a "We are all Julian Assange!" demonstration for Thursday at the Brandenburger Gate in Berlin—near the U.S. and U.K. embassies. Assange is a member of DiEM25's advisory panel.

"Whatever the outcome of the court hearing," DiEM25 said in a statement, "the very fact that Julian is being kept in solitary confinement at the 'British Guantanamo,' Belmarsh Prison, is enough for us to gather at the Brandenburger Gate to protest against the inhuman conditions he is facing now and to loudly say, 'Stop the extradition of Julian Assange!'"

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

'A Devastating Failure': Eviction Ban Expires as House Goes on Vacation and Biden Refuses to Act

"We’re now in an eviction emergency," said Rep. Cori Bush. "Eleven million are now at risk of losing their homes at any moment. The House needs to reconvene and put an end to this crisis."

Jake Johnson ·

With Election Days Away, Bernie Sanders Headlines Get-Out-the-Vote Rally for Nina Turner

In his keynote speech, Sanders said corporate interests are pulling out all the stops to defeat Turner because "they know that when she is elected, she is going to stand up and take them on in the fight for justice."

Jake Johnson ·

Bush, Pressley, and Omar Sleep Outside Capitol to Demand Extension of Eviction Moratorium

Rep. Cori Bush, who was formerly unhoused, slammed her Democratic colleagues who "chose to go on vacation early today rather than staying to vote to keep people in their homes."

Jake Johnson ·

As Progressives Call for End to Blockade, Biden Announces More Sanctions Against Cuba

The move comes after Democratic leadership in the House blocked an amendment to roll back limits on how much money people in the United States can send to family on the island nation.

Jessica Corbett ·

Progressives Issue Dire Warning as House Bill to Extend Eviction Moratorium Dies

"If Congress does not act now, the fallout of the eviction crisis will undoubtedly set us backwards as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravish our communities, needlessly contributing to more death and destruction."

Brett Wilkins ·