Sky News:- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail by seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy.
He spent almost seven years living in the building in west London, having gone into hiding there as he faced allegations of sexual offences which he denies.
Assange was dramatically dragged out by police last month and was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court today.
A letter from the 47-year-old was read out by his lawyer Mark Summers QC, before Judge Deborah Taylor passed sentence.
The founder of the whistleblowing website wrote in the letter: “I apologise unreservedly to those who consider that I have disrespected them by the way I pursued my case.
“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.
“Whilst the difficulties I now face may have become even greater, nevertheless it is right for me to say this now.”
The judge said it was the first time he had expressed contrition over his actions, which had cost at least £16m in public funds.
As he was led down to the cells, Assange raised his fist in a gesture of defiance directed towards his supporters in the public gallery behind him.
They responded in kind and shouted “shame on you” towards the court.
The judge told Assange: “It’s difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offence.”
“Firstly, by entering the embassy, you deliberately put yourself out of reach, whilst remaining in the UK,” she said.
“You remained there for nearly seven years, exploiting your privileged position to flout the law and advertise internationally your disdain for the law of this country.”
She also said his actions “undoubtedly” affected the efforts of Swedish prosecutors, which were discontinued “not least because you remained in the embassy”.
In mitigation for Assange, Mr Summers said the Australian had been “gripped” by fears of rendition to the US due to his work with WikiLeaks.
“As threats rained down on him from America, they overshadowed everything as far as he was concerned,” Mr Summers told the court.
“They dominated his thoughts. They were not invented by him, they were gripping him throughout.”
After the sentencing, supporters gathered outside the court in front of a large press pack.
They held up placards and banners demanding he be freed, chanting “Defend Julian Assange”, and “No extradition, there’s only one decision”.
Assange entered the embassy in June 2012 amid widespread coverage of WikiLeaks’ disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables.
He sought political asylum there after exhausting all legal options in battling extradition to Sweden over separate allegations, one of rape and one of molestation.
Assange has argued he will eventually be sent to the US if he is first extradited back to Sweden to face the allegations, accusing Washington of a “witch hunt”.
There will be a hearing on Thursday about a potential US extradition, over the allegation he conspired with intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to infiltrate Pentagon computers.
Prosecutors in Sweden are also considering reopening the sexual assault case against Assange, having dropped it in May 2017.