WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange jailed for 50 weeks for breaching bail conditions

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at court in London on May 1, 2019 to be sentenced for bail violation. - Assange will be sentenced today for breaching a British court order seven years ago, when he took refuge in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty ImagesWikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at court in London (Picture: AFP)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defiantly clenched his fist as he arrived at court today in the back of a prison van.

The Australian will spend the next 11-and-a-half months in a British jail despite offering an ‘unreserved apology’ for skipping bail to avoid being sent to Sweden to face sex assault allegations.

The hacker now faces being handed over to the US to face justice for leaking classified documents and will be back in court again tomorrow for the start of the extradition process.

The big beard and ponytail he was sporting when he was arrested last month were both gone.

Assange was accused of sexual offences in Sweden in 2010 but refused to go to the country fearing he would be sent to the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

He exhausted all legal options against extradition and took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012.

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In doing so, he breached his bail conditions and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Protesters outside court as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will appear in court to be sentenced on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London, Wednesday May 1, 2019. Assange was arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy April 11, after his political asylum was withdrawn. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)Protesters outside court to support WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Picture: AP)

During his self-imposed exile, the sex assault allegations were dropped by Sweden but Assange refused to leave the residence in west London.

Relations turned sour this year and WikiLeaks accused the Ecuadorian government of spying on Assange.

His hosts – who spent almost £700,000 a year on him – called him aggressive, rude and accused him of living in filth.

After seven years, Ecuador revoked his asylum status meaning UK officials could storm the building on April 10 this year and drag him out.

A bedraggled and ill-looking Assange was taken out of the building ranting and promptly driven to Westminster Magistrates’ Court where he was convicted of the bail breach.

At the hearing, District Judge Michael Snow remanded Assange in custody and branded him a ‘narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests’.

Judge Snow referred the case to Southwark Crown Court where he was today jailed for 50 weeks – two weeks short of the maximum 12 months.

FILE - In this file photo dated Friday May 19, 2017, watched by the media WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looks out from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy prior to speaking, in London. London police say they've arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy, it was reported on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)Assange lived in the embassy for seven years until relations turned sour this year (Picture: AP)

In a letter read to the court, Assange said: ‘I apologise unreservedly to those who consider that I have disrespected them by the way I pursued my case.

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‘I found myself 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.

‘I regret the course that that has taken.’

There will now be an initial extradition hearing on Thursday at Westminster Magistrates Court at the request of the US government, headed by Donald Trump.

The process is likely to last for months or even years and there is also the possibility that Sweden could revisit the rape allegations.

Assange had been accused of raping one woman and sexually molesting another while on a visit to Stockholm to give a lecture in August 2010.

The WikiLeaks founder always said the encounters were consensual and the accusations were part of a political smear campaign.

His lawyers said he was always available to be questioned by Swedish investigators.

WikiLeaks exposed everything from US military secrets to tax evasion by the wealthy.

The US Justice Department has charged Assange with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

They are accused of gaining access to a government computer as part of a 2010 leak by WikiLeaks of hundreds of thousands of US military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and American diplomatic communications.

Among the leak was footage of US soldiers shooting dead 18 civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.

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