UN group slams WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange’s ‘disproportionate’ sentence for breaching bail

May 3, 2019 GMT

United Nations officials spoke out Friday against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange receiving a 50-week prison sentence as a result of taking refuge inside Ecuador’s London embassy.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a statement that it was deeply concerned with the “disproportionate” punishment recently imposed on Mr. Assange by a British judge for jumping bail.

“This treatment appears to contravene the principles of necessity and proportionality envisaged by the human rights standards,” said the UN group.

Mr. Assange, an Australian, was under house arrest in connection with being wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities investigating allegations of sexual assault when he sought protection within the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012. He was removed from the building after nearly seven years as a result of having his asylum status revoked on April 11, and he was subsequently convicted and sentenced to nearly a year behind bars this week for having violated the conditions of his bail by entering.

Sweden dropped its investigation into Mr. Assange in 2017, and the UN group previously issued an official opinion that determined he was being “arbitrarily detained” inside the embassy because he risked being arrested upon leaving despite that case being suspended.

Reacting to Mr. Assange’s sentencing, the experts accused the U.K. government of ignoring the group’s longstanding concerns about the WikiLeaks publisher.

“The Working Group regrets that the Government has not complied with its Opinion and has now furthered the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr. Assange,” the group said, adding that his rights to “personal liberty should be restored.”

Representatives for Southwark Crown Court where Mr. Assange was sentenced Wednesday did not immediately return a request for comment.

Speaking during the hearing, Judge Deborah Taylor scolded Mr. Assange, 47, over what she called his “deliberate attempt to delay justice.”

“It’s difficult to envisage a more serious example of this offense,” she said, according to British outlets. “By hiding in the embassy you deliberately put yourself out of reach, while remaining in the U.K.”

Mr. Assange apologized during the hearing and said that he believed entering the embassy “was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done.”

The U.S. Department of Justice announced a criminal hacking case against Mr. Assange moments after he was ejected from the Ecuadorian Embassy. An initial extradition hearing was held Thursday in London, and proceedings were adjourned until May 30.

The Justice Department has charged Mr. Assange with conspiracy to commit computer hacking and accused him of attempting to help a WikiLeaks source crack a password that safeguarded U.S. military computer systems.

“I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that’s won many, many awards and affected many people,” Mr. Assange said during Thursday’s extradition hearing.

The Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment concerning Mr. Assange’s remark.