LONDON — A British court sentenced Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to 50 weeks in prison on Wednesday for jumping bail when he took refuge in Ecuador’s Embassy in London seven years ago.
His complex legal travails are far from over: The United States is seeking Mr. Assange’s extradition for prosecution there, and an initial hearing on that request is expected on Thursday. Officials in Sweden have left open the possibility that he could face criminal charges in that country, as well.
Mr. Assange faces a charge of conspiracy to hack into a Pentagon computer network; a federal indictment accuses him of helping an Army private to illegally download classified information in 2010, much of it about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which WikiLeaks then made public. He has denied the charge.
Mr. Assange, 47, was arrested on April 11 after the Ecuadorean government withdrew its protection of him and allowed the police to take him out of the embassy in London, where he had lived since 2012. The same day, he appeared in court and was convicted on the charge of skipping bail.
Mr. Assange, who is being held in Belmarsh Prison in East London, argued that he should not be jailed for the offense, because he was effectively imprisoned in the embassy. On Wednesday, in Southwark Crown Court in London, Judge Deborah Taylor rejected that claim.
“It’s difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offense,” she told Mr. Assange, British news organizations reported. “By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the U.K.”
Before he was sentenced, the court heard an apology letter by Mr. Assange, in which he said that he was “struggling with difficult circumstances.”
“I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done,” he said, according to British news reports. “I regret the course that that has taken.”
His legal odyssey began in 2010, when prosecutors in Sweden sought to question him about alleged sexual assaults there, which he denies. Eventually, he had to post bail to remain free while fighting extradition to Sweden, which he insisted would then send him to the United States.
After exhausting his appeals in the British courts, rather than submit to extradition, Mr. Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy, violating the terms of his bail. Ecuador granted him asylum and, eventually, citizenship.
He continued his work from the embassy, and in 2016, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and the personal account of John D. Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, intending to harm her candidacy. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, concluded that the emails were stolen by Russian intelligence agents, which Mr. Assange denies.
The 2010 release of Pentagon records was made possible by Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, the Army private who would later serve around seven years in prison for taking them. The indictment against Mr. Assange says he did not merely publish the material provided by Ms. Manning, but helped her in the hacking, which he disputes.
Mr. Assange insists that the government is seeking retribution for his exposure of misconduct and deception by American troops and officials.
Swedish prosecutors eventually dropped the case against Mr. Assange, calling it pointless to pursue it, but said they could revive it if he became available. Nevertheless the bail-jumping charge, and the threat of extradition to the United States, still hung over him.
Last month, Ecuador revoked his asylum and citizenship, citing a list of grievances that had made him an unwanted house guest, ranging from recent WikiLeaks releases to alleged ill manners, threats, hacking aimed at Ecuador, and abuse of embassy staff members and facilities.
Ecuador stopped sheltering Mr. Assange after “his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols,” President Lenin Moreno said in a statement on Twitter.
But Mr. Assange didn’t go easily: He resisted arrest and had to be restrained by British police officers, who struggled to handcuff him.
“This is unlawful, I’m not leaving,” he told them, according to the account given at the Westminster Magistrates Court, where Mr. Assange appeared later that day. In the end, he had to be dragged out of the embassy.
Mr. Assange, a man accustomed to celebrity and internet culture, has long fascinated and divided popular opinion: To supporters, he is a martyr for the cause of free speech, but others see him as a publicity-seeking criminal with strong ties to the Kremlin.
He has indicated that he would fight extradition, and the process promises to be a long one, further extending his saga.
Orignially published in NYT.