High-profile information transparency advocate and co-founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has been sentenced by a British court to 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail conditions after he was forced to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in which he has been seeking refuge since 2012. This according to a report by the BBC, May 1, 2019.
50 Weeks Behind Bars for Violating the Bail Act
Julian Assange was sentenced in Southwark Crown Court to 50 weeks behind bars for breaching the Bail Act.
Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 after he was accused of sexual assault in Sweden, which would have meant extradition to Sweden and then – with high likelihood – to the U.S. Assange has denied the charges against him and wanted to avoid potential extradition to the US via Sweden, where he feared he would be unfairly punished for the revelations that Wikileaks has brought to light.
In regards to seeking refuge in the Ecuduaron embassy, Assange stated:
“I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done.”
Judge Deborah Taylor, who sentenced Assange, stated that it was difficult to imagine a more serious example of breaching bail, explaining:
“By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the UK. […] 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 offense,”
The verdict was reportedly followed with “shame on you” chants from Assange supporters in the courtroom directed at Judge Taylor after Assange left the courtroom with his fist raised to his supporters.
Assange’s Real Battle is Against US Extradition
While spending almost a year behind bars is not an easy feat for anyone, Assange’s real battle is against extradition to the United States. Assange appeared in a British courtroom via a video stream from Belmarsh prison on Thursday to commence his battle against extradition.
Assange faces extradition for an incitement filed in the State of Virginia for “attempting to access a computer without consent and accessing a computer without authorization,” and further charges are expected, according to a report by CNN.
When asked by Judge Michael Snow if he would like to surrender himself for extradition, Assange responded:
“I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that’s won many, many awards and affected many people.”
The US government’s lawyer, Ben Brandon, alleged that Assange “agreed to help [Chelsea] Manning crack a password that was connected to a government server,” as the pair “unlawfully conspired to effect […] disclosures,” referring to WikiLeaks’s publication of classified US government documents that were provided by Chelsea Manning.
Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for Assange, told CNN:
“The allegations boil down to, as we heard in court, not about hacking, there is no suggestion that Julian Assange had actually hacked anything. What this is actually about, is the fact that he had conversations with a source about releasing information, encouraged that source to provide more information, and talked to that source about protecting their identity.”
Assange’s Father Says the US is Out for “Revenge”
At a rally in Sydney, Australia, Assange’s father, John Shipton, spoke about his son’s battle against US extradition which he considers is a result of the US seeking “vindictive revenge” for his son’s role in exposing crimes committed by the US government, according to a report by RT.
“The consequence of WikiLeaks revealing these crimes, the destruction of Iraq, the destruction of Afghanistan, the destruction of Syria, the destruction of Libya, millions killed, they want their vindictive revenge,”
He added that Ecuador “sold” his son to the US for money, referring to the $4.2 IMF loan that the South American country received before allowing UK police to enter their London embassy to arrest Assange on April 11.
Shipton fears that once extradited to the US, his son will serve a life sentence in prison.
More Assange Supporters Speak Out Against Extradition
Assange’s father was not the only person to speak out against the “political” US extradition battle Assange is facing.
Chinese activist, Ai Weiwei, called for a stop of the extradition in a tweet on the day Assange was arrested in the Ecuadorian embassy by UK police.
His sentiment was shared by a number of notable figures in politics, entertainment, and media including Roger Waters, Yanis Varoufakis, and Ron Paul, among many more. Additionally, #FreeAssange started to trend on Twitter as freedom of information activists stand behind the Wikileaks editor.
Assange’s Extradition Would Mean a Dark Day For Press Freedom
It is no secret that Julian Assange is a thorn in the eye of the US authorities after his media publication, Wikileaks, exposed a number of crimes committed by the US government. He has made himself powerful enemies who are willing to go to great lengths to discredit him and his fight for information transparency and accountability.
Should Assange lose his fight against US extradition, the US government will likely attempt to make an example of him by imprisoning him for the rest of his life for exposing their criminal actions.
The extradition of Assange for reporting the truth would mean a dark day for journalism and freedom of the press. Something that the majority of politicians, globally, failed to mention on Wolrd Press Freedom Day, held on May 3.