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LONDON (Reuters) - WikiLeaks' Australian founder Julian Assange, who enraged Washington by publishing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, was given a 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.
Currently fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, the computer expert 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."
He also 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.
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.
Other winners include Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.