On Sunday in New York City, Yoko Ono Lennon presented the Courage Award for the Arts 2013 to Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who accepted the award in absentia.
The award was created by Ono to recognize artists who have demonstrated independent thought and have resisted commercial and political pressure in their work.
In presenting the apt award to Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, in absentia, at a ceremony at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, Ono said:
"Our public officials have forgotten that they are ultimately accountable to the people who put them in office; that the information they keep in secrecy belongs to all of us. Julian Assange took a courageous step by rightfully returning what belongs to the public domain. For that reason, I believe we need to stand behind him."
Due to being holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, waiting for the UK to grant him safe passage out of the country, Assange was unable to attend. However, Assange's lawyers, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Honorable Judge Baltasar Garzón Real, represented him at the ceremony. Ratner delivered Assange's speech, which can be read at the end of this article, dedicating this award to the staff of WikiLeaks.
The speech references both Bradley Manning and Aaron Swartz, who recently committed suicide rather than face the possibility of 30 years in prison for downloading academic articles.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño was also present and stated, “Julian gives us all an example: the powerful cannot hide information to dominate states and destroy democracies.”
Daniel Ellsberg, a champion for Bradley Manning, also attended the award ceremony, saying, “Julian Assange richly deserves this award. I hope that this award will give the Nobel Committee the courage to award Bradley Manning and Julian Assange the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Ratner, Yoko Ono Lennon, Baltasar Garzón, and Ricardo Armando Patiño at the 2013 Courage Awards for the Arts presentation to Julian Assange.
Julian Assange's speech in absentia:First of all, I want to thank Yoko Ono Lennon for her courage and spirit in granting me this award. A fine woman whose many actions define her. The test for all of us.
People often ask me how I keep going.
They ask as if my work was some kind of burden to me.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is no greater pleasure than fighting for your principles.
There is no greater pleasure than in fighting for those who have risked all to share your vision.
And there is no greater pleasure than seeing those who you admire, in turn, move to fight for you.
And while the embassy that shelters me is still surrounded by armed police, my voice is free.
Within the constraints of the UK surveillance operation outside, I am free to see my staff and my friends.
Many have fought and continue to fight to permit this basic liberty and I am grateful to them.
I want to thank the Ecuadorean people.
I want to thank President Rafael Correa and Foreign Minister Patiño for their courageous and unyielding support.
Their stance strengthens not just my rights but the rights of political refugees everywhere. Support them.
I dedicate this award to our courageous sources, supporters and to my staff.
Through their courage and wit they are revealing the true nature of our global human civilisation. This is how we may reform it. Elevate it - and make it just, beyond its humble origins.
Their courage in documenting war crimes, gross human rights violations, and the corruption of our societies is unequaled.
I want to thank all our anonymous volunteers and all those volunteers from Anonymous. You are unseen in your work but your work is far from unseen.
But I want to specifically name some.
Volunteer Aaron Swartz, aged 26. Political activist, hounded to death right here in New York last month as part of the broader political crackdown against our ideals.
Alleged source, now political prisoner, Bradley Manning. Bradley is now two weeks away from 1000 days in prison. The longest pre-trial detention in US military history.
Alleged source, now political prisoner, Jeremy Hammond, detained without trial, right here in New York, for the last 336 days as of today.
Volunteer and alleged source, now political prisoner, Gottfrid Svartholm, detained in Sweden for almost five months.
WikiLeaks banking blockade protesters Christopher Weatherhead, aged 22, and Ashley Rhodes, aged 28. Sentenced in the UK last week to 18 months and 7 months in prison respectively.
And I want to thank my lawyers Baltasar Garzón and Michael Ratner who are representing me here today, as they do every day.
They together with our other lawyers in the US, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Ecuador are part of the fight to make sure that our rights are respected and WikiLeaks can continue its mission.
With such courage, tenacity, love, and support from our friends, silencing WikiLeaks remains and will continue to remain a fantasy.
We will continue our fight to document the world, understand its institutions, and hold our civilization to a higher standard.
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