WikiLeaks‘ founder Julian Assange, who enraged Washington by publishing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, was given an Australian Peace Award on Tuesday for “exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights.”
Assange was awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal in London, only the fourth to be handed out in its 14-year history. The not-for-profit organization associated with the University of Sydney, is supported by the City of Sydney.
Assange, an Australian former computer hacker who is fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, was praised for “challenging centuries old practices of government secrecy and by championing people’s right to know.”
“We think the struggle for peace with justice inevitably involves conflict, inevitably involves controversy,” the foundation’s director Professor Stuart Rees said.
“We think that you and WikiLeaks have brought about what we think is a watershed in journalism and in freedom of information and potentially in politics.”
Mr Assange, who was named as the award recipient in February, welcomed the prize. “The real value of this award, and the Sydney Peace Foundation, is that it makes explicit the link between peace and justice,” he said in a statement.
“It does not take the safe, feel-good option of shunning controversy by uttering platitudes. Instead it goes into difficult terrain by identifying organisations and individuals who are directly engaged in struggles of one kind or another,” he added.
Although the Peace Prize is awarded annually by the foundation only three other people in its 14-year history have been awarded the gold award for courage in pursuit of human rights – the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Japanese Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda.
Assange criticized the Australian government, saying it must stop shoring up Washington’s efforts to “behave like a totalitarian state,” and said it was “appalled by the violent behavior by major politicians in the United States.”
WikiLeaks caused a media and diplomatic uproar late last year when it began to publish its cache of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, revealing secrets such as that Saudi leaders had urged U.S. military action against Iran. Some American politicians said WikiLeaks should be defined as an international terrorist organization.
Bradley Manning, the US Army private accused of giving information to WikiLeaks, remains in jail awaiting trial on about two dozen charges, including aiding the enemy.
Julian Assange himself claimed publication of the cables helped shape uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East and said WikiLeaks was on the side of justice.
Mr. Assange, who was arrested in London at Sweden’s request in December, remains on bail pending his challenge in July to a British judge’s decision to extradite him over allegations of sexual assault. [via The Telegraph (UK) and Reuters]