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Yoko Ono Honors Julian Assange With Special Annual Courage Award

Yoko Ono Julian Assange Split - H 2013
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The musician/artist bestowed the fourth annual award on the WikiLeaks founder, praising him for releasing classified information and saying "we need to stand behind him."

Yoko Ono honored Julian Assange at her Courage Awards for the Arts ceremony in New York on Sunday evening, calling the WikiLeaks founder and political refugee "courageous" for his work.

Assange accepted in absentia, as he is in hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London; he is in exile from Sweden, where he is facing allegations of rape and sexual assault.

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"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," Ono said. "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."

Assange's WikiLeaks has faced hostility from the United States government for its leak of sensitive documents. Assange, in a speech given by associates accepting the award on his behalf, dedicated the prize to the hackers working at the organization.

"Through their courage and wit they are revealing the true nature of our global human civilization," his statement said. "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 unequalled."

The evening also featured a tribute to Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit and Internet freedom activist who committed suicide in January as he faced federal charges for downloading documents from the MIT server.

A film about Assange called The Fifth Estate, which will star Benedict Cumberbatch, is in pre-production.