LONDON—A British judge sentenced Julian Assange to 50 weeks in jail for skipping bail in 2012 while awaiting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault accusations, a blow to the WikiLeaks founder ahead of a hearing on whether he should be sent to the U.S. to face trial over the leak of classified documents almost a decade ago.
In April, Mr. Assange was indicted in federal court on a computer-hacking conspiracy charge in connection with what prosecutors described as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
His WikiLeaks website in 2010 collaborated with top media organizations to publish thousands of documents that presented a bleak view of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. U.S. prosecutors allege Mr. Assange conspired with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to try to help her crack a password that would have allowed her to break into a U.S. government computer system.
Mr. Assange is now set to face the first stage of that battle from a British jail. On Wednesday, Judge Deborah Taylor sentenced Mr. Assange to almost a year in prison for jumping bail and fleeing to the Ecuadorean embassy when, in 2012, his efforts to avoid extradition to Sweden on a separate allegation of rape failed.
“This was a deliberate attempt to delay or evade justice,” the judge said, handing down close to the maximum 12-month sentence allowable under British law for breaching bail conditions.
She rejected pleas for leniency advanced by Mr. Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, who said the WikiLeaks founder regretted his actions and sought refuge in the embassy because he was terrified of being handed over to the U.S. if he was extradited to Sweden.
Mr. Assange will be eligible for release after serving half his sentence, the judge said.
Supporters of Mr. Assange who were thronging the courtroom chanted “shame on you” after the judge delivered her verdict. Mr. Assange has long attracted enthusiastic backers drawn to his status as an anti-U.S. gadfly and proponent of radical transparency in government. He defends his endeavors as legitimate journalism in the public interest that deserves free-speech protection.