The controversial co-founder of WikiLeaks was sentenced Wednesday to nearly a year in prison for breaching his bail conditions and taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London seven years ago. In a statement to the court, Julian Assange "unreservedly" apologized to all who believe he's "disrespected" them, while the organization he co-founded issued a complaint about the sentencing.
Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison, BBC reported Wednesday. "The 47-year-old was found guilty of breaching the Bail Act last month after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy." Out of fear of extradition to Sweden for sexual assault allegations, Assange famously took refuge at the embassy in 2012 and remained there until he was forcefully removed by British police on April 11.
In a letter to the court, Assange apologized and explained why he felt the need to take the actions he did. "I apologise unreservedly to those who consider that I have disrespected them by the way I have pursued my case," he wrote. "This is not what I wanted or intended."
Below is the full letter (via BBC; formatting adjusted):
I apologise 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.
Whilst the difficulties I now face may have become even greater, nevertheless it is right for me to say this now.
Judge Deborah Taylor was not sympathetic with Assange's decision, describing it as "hiding" and an egregious violation of the law that ended up costing taxpayers £16m, BBC notes. "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," she said, the network reports.
Though Assange was apologetic in court, he reportedly showed his characteristic defiance of authority as he was walking out by raising his fist as his supporters jeered the court.
Assange's organization also sounded its own note of defiance against the sentencing. "Julian Assange's sentence is as shocking as it is vindictive. We have grave concerns as to whether he will receive a fair extradition hearing in the UK," WikiLeaks tweeted Wednesday.
"Julian Assange's sentence, for seeking and receiving asylum, is twice as much as the sentencing guidelines," WikiLeaks added in a follow-up tweet. "The so-called speedboat killer, convicted of manslaughter, was only sentenced to six months for failing to appear in court."
Along with his 50-week prison sentence, Assange now faces far more serious charges from the U.S. federal government for leaking classified information with the help of former U.S. intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning. Assange could serve up to five years in prison for federal conspiracy charges.
Related: Chelsea Manning Sent To Jail