Australian born WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who began publishing thousands of leaked US diplomatic cables last year, received the Sydney Peace Foundation’s Gold Medal at a special ceremony at the Frontline Club in London on May 10.
The award, which differs from the foundation’s annual Sydney Peace Prize, is for "exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights" and has only been awarded on three previous occasions: to the Dalai Lama in 1998, Nelson Mandela in 2000 and Japanese lay Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda in 2009.
Assange’s publication of the US embassy cables, the “Iraq War Logs”, the “Afghan War Dairies” and the notorious “Collateral Murder” video, which shows US soldiers gunning down unarmed civilians in Iraq, has exposed US support for, and participation in, a litany of abuses, war crimes and corruption.
This has earned him some powerful enemies. US politicians have denounced WikiLeaks as a terrorist organisation. There have been calls for Assange to be prosecuted, kidnapped or simply assassinated.
Assange is currently fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault. Assange says the allegations are part of a smear campaign against him and says he fears being handed over to the US by Swedish authorities.
Sydney Peace Foundation director, Stuart Rees said Assange and WikiLeaks challenged “centuries-old practices of government secrecy and [championed] people's right to know”, The Guardian reported on May 11.
“We think the struggle for peace with justice inevitably involves conflict, inevitably involves controversy," Rees said.
He told Assange: “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.”
Veteran Australian broadcaster Mary Kostakidis, who presented the award, praised WikiLeaks as an “ingenious and heroic website that has shifted the power balance between citizens and the state by exposing what governments really get up to in our name”.
A statement on the Sydney Peace Foundation’s website said the medal “recognises Assange’s leadership, courage and tenacity in journalism and publishing, and pays tribute to his enduring conviction that truth matters and justice depends on it”.
See video of Julian Assange speaking to the Cambridge Union Society in March.