Edward Snowden will request temporary asylum in Russia pending arrangement of “safe” passage to Venezuela

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden announced today that he is requesting temporary asylum in Russia until he is able to legally travel to Venezuela, where he has been granted formal asylum by President Nicolas Maduro.

Snowden met with human rights officials – including representatives from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – and journalists late Friday afternoon at Moscow’s Sherementyevo Airport, where he has been confined in the airport’s transit zone since his departure from Hong Kong on June 23rd.

At the meeting, Snowden announced his formal acceptance of all offers of asylum extended to him. His acceptance of the offer of asylum from Venezuelan President Maduro would formalize his asylum status, which should give Snowden the legal status and documents needed to travel after his passport was revoked by the State Department.

However, Snowden is seeking asylum in Russia for the time being because he will likely not be able to fly to Venezuela without crossing the airspace of several European countries, such as France, Spain, and Portugal. Last week, those countries reportedly closed their airspace to a plane carrying Bolivian President Eva Morales because of a report that Snowden was on the flight.

“With…the grant of asylum provided by Venezuela’s President Maduro, my asylum status is now formal, and no state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum,” said Snowden. “As we have seen, however, some governments in Western Europe and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today. This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance of our shared rights.”

Snowden asked human rights officials to help him secure guarantees of safe passages to Latin America.

Snowden said he hopes his request for asylum in Russia “will be accepted favorably”. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently stated that Snowden is welcome to stay in Russia as long as he agrees to stop leaking U.S. secrets.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Russia should expel Snowden so that he could be returned to the U.S. to face the Espionage Act charges filed against him.

“Providing a propaganda platform for Mr. Snowden runs counter to the Russian government’s previous declarations of Russia’s neutrality and that they have no control over his presence in the airport. It’s also incompatible with Russian assurances that they do not want Mr. Snowden to further damage U.S. interests,” Carney said. “We are working with the Russians and have made clear to the Russians our view about the fact that Mr. Snowden has been charged with very serious crimes, and that he should be returned to the United States where he will be granted full due process and every right available to him as a United States citizen facing our justice system under the Constitution.”

In early June, Snowden released a series of classified documents to the Washington Post and the Guardian that revealed the NSA’s mass data collections of U.S. phone records and Internet communications (including emails, chats, and Skype calls) under the agency’s PRISM and BLARNEY surveillance programs. These disclosures have raised serious questions about whether these warrantless and sweeping surveillance programs violate Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.

Snowden has subsequently revealed the NSA’s spying programs in China, Germany, France, Italy, and on officials of the European Union. Snowden obtained those classified documents during his stint as a contract information systems administrator for the NSA in Hawaii.

A representative from Human Rights Watch relayed a message from the U.S. Ambassador to Russia that “the U.S. government does not categorize Mr. Snowden as a whistleblower and that he has broken United States law.”

Snowden said the U.S. government’s actions – such as revoking his passport, placing him on no-fly lists, threatening sanctions against countries that may grant Snowden asylum – are attempts to “make an example” out of him as a “warning to others who might speak out”, as Snowden did, about allegations of government wrongdoing.

“I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression,” said Snowden. “I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice. That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.”

Amnesty International reaffirmed their intent to continue pressuring governments to ensure Snowden’s “unassailable right” to claim asylum in any country he chooses.

“What he has disclosed is patently in the public interest and as a whistleblower his actions were justified. He has exposed unlawful sweeping surveillance programs that unquestionably interfere with an individual’s right to privacy,” said Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International’s Moscow office, who met with Snowden at the airport. “States that attempt to stop a person from revealing such unlawful behavior are flouting international law. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right.”

 

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