Assange’s Battle for Truth: The Ossietzky Prize of Courage
Julian Assange Awarded Ossietzky Prize for Exposing Abuses of Power.
Imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been awarded the Ossietzky Prize by PEN Norway for his critical journalism exposing severe war crimes and human rights violations.
The annual prize honours those who have made significant contributions to freedom of expression, often at great personal cost. It is named after the German pacifist and journalist Carl von Ossietzky, who during the interwar years strongly warned against the rise of Nazism in Germany. It was Ossietzky who revealed that the German authorities were secretly carrying out military rearmament, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. For this, the whistleblower Ossietzky was convicted of treason and later placed in a concentration camp, where he died in 1938.
Assange earned the award for his publication of classified documents in 2010 that revealed extensive abuses and unlawful actions perpetrated by the US and its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. These revelations informed public debates worldwide about the brutal exercising of power and provided a more accurate picture of gross violations of international law.
His whistleblowing journalism came at a heavy price. For the past five years, Assange has been imprisoned in Britain’s Belmarsh prison under dire conditions, with limited contact with family and lawyers. His health has severely deteriorated.
The essence of investigative journalism is to systematically work to uncover truthful information, especially about reprehensible social conditions and abuse of power. According to US law/legislation, it is the publication itself that can provide grounds for prosecution/conviction under the Espionage Act, which also implies possible prosecution of the news media that disseminate leaked material.
Assange now faces potential lifetime imprisonment in the US under the Espionage Act for his publications. The indictment threatens press freedom globally by criminalising basic journalistic activity.
As the Ossietzky Prize jury declared, “The essence of investigative journalism is to systematically uncover truthful information about reprehensible conditions and the abuse of power.” Citizens’ right to such information is fundamental for democracy.
By honouring Assange, PEN Norway has spotlighted the urgent threats posed to freedom of expression by his prosecution. The prize recognizes Assange’s exceptional contributions to transparency and accountability, despite great risks. He carries forward the legacy of Ossietzky and other courageous defenders of the public’s right to know.
Julian Assange well deserves this prize named for an earlier unjustly jailed truth-teller. Both made huge sacrifices to inform citizens about abuses of state power. Democracy needs such dissenting voices, however inconvenient they may be to the powerful. We betray our values by persecuting those who expose the truth.