Edward Snowden seeks asylum in Ecuador
Edward Snowden, a former U.S. government contractor who leaked information about the NSA’s electronic surveillance and data mining programs, has sought asylum in Ecuador, citing the potential for mistreatment and improbability of receiving a fair trial in the United States.
The Justice Department on Friday filed charges against Snowden under the Epsionage Act, which could carry a 30-year to life prison sentence if he is convicted of those charges.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino read aloud Snowden’s request for asylum at a press conference in Vietnam today.
“As a result of my political opinions and my desire to exercise my freedom of speech, under which I have shown how the U.S. government is intercepting the majority of communications in the world, the U.S. government has announced publicly a criminal investigation against me. And prominent congressional figures in the U.S. and other media in the U.S. have accused me as a traitor and have called for me to be jailed or executed as a result of having communicated this information to the public,” Patino said, quoting Snowden’s letter. “I believe that given these circumstances, it’s improbable that I will receive a fair trial or proper treatment prior to that trial and face the possibility of life in prison or even death.”
In his statement, Snowden referenced the abuse of PFC Bradley Manning, who is being tried on Espionage Act charges for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. Snowden pointed out that Manning was held in solitary confinement for months at the Quantico Marine base in Virginia and that the government has been allowed to present “secret documents” and “secret witnesses” in Manning’s trial. Comparing his case with Manning’s, Snowden suggested that a similar fate may await him if he is extradited to the United States.
Snowden’s decision to seek asylum in Ecuador is not surprising given that he has sought the legal assistance from WikiLeaks, whose founder Julian Assange has been granted refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for a year now.
Patino said the Ecuadorian government will “carefully analyze” Snowden’s asylum application.
“Ecuador acts on the foundation of the basic principles of its constitution that are consecrated, which come from the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and other international interested related to human rights,” said Patino. “The government of Ecuador puts above all of its interests these principles – the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will go above any other interests that may be discussed or any other pressure it may be subjected to.”
According to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry, the country’s constitution guarantees “the conscience clause to anyone…who give their opinions through the media or other forms of communication” and that the government recognizes the “rights of asylum and refugee status” in accordance to international law. Under the U.N. Convention on Refugees, an individual may seek asylum if he or she fears being persecuted on the ground of his or her political opinions.
In an encouraging sign for Snowden, Patino characterized Snowden as a “man who is trying to shed light and transparency on what affects freedom and he is being persecuted by those who should be the one explaining to the governments and the citizens of the world in relations to the accusations that Mr. Snowden has presented.” Patino also challenged the “treason” used by U.S. officials to describe Snowden, asking “Who has betrayed whom?”
Up until Sunday, Snowden had been hiding in Hong Kong since the Guardian and the Washington Post broke the story about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs that involve the collection of Internet and telephone data from U.S. companies such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, AOL, YouTube, Facebook, and Verizon. But yesterday, Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow and was accompanied by Sarah Harrison, a British journalist and legal research for WikiLeaks. According to a WikiLeaks statement, Snowden is “bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum” and that his asylum request will be formally processed once he arrives in Ecuador.
White House spokesman Jay Carney accused the Hong Kong government of intentionally hampering U.S. efforts to capture and bring Snowden back to the United State.
Carney confirmed that the U.S. request for Snowden’s arrest was received by Hong Kong authorities on June 17th, and that the Hong Kong government requested additional information on the U.S. charges and evidence against Snowden on June 21st.
“The U.S. had been in communication with Hong Kong about these inquiries, and we were in the process of responding to the request when we learned that Hong Kong authorities had allowed the fugitive to leave Hong Kong,” said Carney.
CY Leung, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), told reporters on Sunday that Snowden departed Hong Kong as a “normal passenger using the usual and lawful channels” and that Hong Kong’s Immigration Department confirmed that it did not receive notification from the U.S. State Department that Snowden’s passport was being revoked.
“We were asking the United States government for further important information on the case. There was no legal basis to stop Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” said Leung.
Carney disputed the Hong Kong government’s claims that the U.S. application for the arrest warrant was not sufficient.
“Let me say that the request that was made complied with all of the requirements of the U.S.-Hong Kong Surrender Agreement. At no point in all of our discussions through Friday did the authorities in Hong Kong raise any issues regarding the sufficiency of the U.S.’s provisional arrest request. In light of this, we find their decision to be particularly troubling,” said Carney. “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the [Chinese] government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.
Secretary of State John Kerry also expressed his disappointment that Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong and echoed Carney’s remarks that the incident has strained relations between U.S. and China.
“It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they have if they have adequate notice and not withstanding that they make a decision willfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law. There is a surrender treaty with Hong Kong, and if there was adequate notice – I don’t know yet what the communication status was – but if there was, it would be disappointing if he was willfully allowed to board an airplane as a result and there would be without any question some effect, an impact on the relationship, and consequences,” said Kerry.
Kerry strongly urged Russia to not allow Snowden to leave Moscow and “live by the standard of the law”, reminding Kremlin that the U.S. has extradited 7 prisoners Russia over the past two years and that “reciprocity and enforcement of the law is pretty important.”
Snowden, who worked an IT systems contractor for the NSA and the CIA, was working for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton when he downloaded the classified documents on the NSA’s PRISM and BLARNEY surveillance programs that collect and track Internet communications (such as emails and chats) and telephone records. The disclosure has sparked an intense debate on whether the NSA programs violate the privacy and civil liberties of Americans whose communications data are being monitored by the secret government agency.
Testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on June 18, National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander assured lawmakers that there are “protections that are in place to preserve our privacy and civil liberties” but warned that the improper disclosure the classified surveillance programs has damaged the U.S. capabilities to monitor the communications of suspected foreign terrorists and enemies of the United States and its allies.
“I have concerns that the intentional and irresponsible release of classified information about these programs will have a long and irreversible impact on our nation’s security and on that of our allies,” said Alexander.
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Testimony of NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander before the House Intelligence Committee on June 18, 2013
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca’s reading of Edward Snowden’s request for asylum
- State.gov: Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks With Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on June 24, 2013
- United States v. Edward J. Snowden – complaint filed on June 14, 2013 (PDF)
- WhiteHouse.gov: Press briefing June 24, 2013
- China Foreign Ministry: Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Remarks on June 23, 2013
- news.gov.hk: Snowden left HK lawfully: CE