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Julian Assange Set To Face Biggest Fear In UK Court

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is due to face a British court for the second time in two days, this time on the one thing he has always feared: an extradition order from the US.

On Wednesday, he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail in Britain seven years ago and holing up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Judge Deborah Taylor appeared unimpressed by Assange's written apology and his lawyer's argument that he sought refuge in the embassy because of an overwhelming fear of being taken from Sweden, where he faced sexual misconduct allegations, to the US to face separate charges related to his WikiLeaks activity.

READ MORE: Julian Assange Sentenced To 50 Weeks Jail Over Skipping Bail

The judge on Wednesday said it was hard to imagine a more serious version of the offence as she gave the 47-year-old a sentence close to the maximum of a year in custody.

She pointed out he had not surrendered "willingly" and was only facing the court because the government of Ecuador withdrew its protection last month.

Julian Assange
Julian Assange gestured to his supporters as he arrived at court on Wednesday. Image: Getty Images.

The Australian had lived in the South American country's London embassy since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations made by two women.

He was arrested by British police on April 11 after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation's foreign affairs to poor hygiene.

READ MORE: What You've Forgotten About Julian Assange

Assange faces a separate court hearing on Thursday on a US extradition request on the charge of computer intrusion.

American authorities have charged Assange with conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break into a Pentagon computer system.

Sweden suspended its investigation into possible sexual misconduct against Assange two years ago because he was beyond their reach while he was living in the embassy. Prosecutors have said that investigation could be revived if his situation changed.

Protesters Outside Court
Supports protest outside court against Assange extradition to the US. Image: Getty Images.

Assange's lawyer Mark Summers told a courtroom packed with journalists and WikiLeaks supporters that his client sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy because "he was living with overwhelming fear of being rendered to the US" over his WikiLeaks activities.

He said Assange had a "well-founded" fear that he would be mistreated and possibly sent to the US detention camp for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said after the sentencing on Wednesday that the extradition battle with the US is now the "big fight" facing Assange.

"It will be a question of life and death for Mr Assange," he said.