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Statements of support for Edward Snowden - Courage Foundation

Statements of support

Amnesty International: Threats to deny Snowden clemency smack of persecution

Originally posted 4 November 2013 on the Amnesty International website

Any potential trial of whistleblower Edward Snowden would amount to political persecution if it covers his revelations about the US government’s human rights violations, Amnesty International said today.

Over the weekend top US officials, including the White House and leading lawmakers, went on the record saying the former intelligence agency contractor – who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia – should not receive clemency for leaking information about the USA’s wide-reaching surveillance programmes.

“Edward Snowden is a whistleblower who has disclosed an unlawful global digital surveillance programme that has violated the right to privacy of millions of people. As such, he has grounds to seek asylum abroad out of well-founded fears the USA would persecute him for his actions,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Programme Director at Amnesty International.

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Editors around the world support Snowden revelations

Originally posted 10 October 2013 on the Guardian website

Editors around the world expressed their support of the journalistic work that has gone into the publications of NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance programs, following a flurry of UK media headlines including accusations that the Guardian paper was aiding terrorists.

On 9 October 2013 the Telegraph published an article with the extraordinary title, ‘GCHQ leaks have “gifted” terrorists ability to attack “at will”, warns spy chief’. The article quoted extensively from a speech given by the UK’s new MI5 Director-General Andrew Parker and emphasised that leaks of GCHQ classified information had given terrorists a significant advantage. The following day, the Daily Mail published a comment accusing theGuardian of being a paper that helps Britain’s enemies and causes real damage by leaking information about GCHQ to the public.

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Article 19: Letter to Obama to stop the prosecution of Snowden

Originally posted 6 August 2013 on the Article 19 website

Dear President Obama,

We are writing to you as free speech and media freedom organisations from around the world to express our strong concern over the response of the US government to the actions of whistleblower Edward Snowden. We urge you to take immediate action to protect whistleblowers and journalists.

Edward Snowden’s recent disclosures have triggered a necessary and long-delayed public debate about the acceptable boundaries of surveillance in a democratic country, a debate that on 5 June you welcomed having. The revelations brought into question the legitimacy of the secretive process of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and closed Congressional intelligence committees as appropriate forums to determine the fundamental human rights of Americans and persons worldwide. The disclosures have clearly served the public interest, including by prompting similar debates in countries around the world.

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Human Rights Watch: Countries should consider Snowden’s asylum claim fairly

Originally posted 3 July 2013 on the Human Rights Watch website

Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the massive surveillance of communications data by the United States and the United Kingdom point to a serious infringement on the right of privacy. If true, these disclosures indicate that data is being collected about the communications, associations, and movements of millions of ordinary people who aren’t suspected of wrongdoing or considered a threat. This indiscriminate collection of data is intrinsically overbroad and cannot be justified by some future hypothetical usefulness against potential threats to these countries.

The law often criminalizes the disclosure of secrets by employees or agents of a government. But international law recognizes that revealing official secrets is sometimes justified in the public interest. In particular it may be necessary to expose and protect against serious human rights violations, including overreaching or unjustifiable surveillance. International principles on national security whistleblowers outline various circumstances under which governments should protect people from punishment if they disclose information of public concern.

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Amnesty International: USA must not persecute whistleblower Edward Snowden

Originally posted 2 July 2013 on the Amnesty International website

The US authorities’ relentless campaign to hunt down and block whistleblower Edward Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum is deplorable and amounts to a gross violation of his human rights Amnesty International said today.

“The US attempts to pressure governments to block Snowden’s attempts to seek asylum are deplorable,” said Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International. “It is his unassailable right, enshrined in international law, to claim asylum and this should not be impeded.”

The organization also believes that the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower could be at risk of ill-treatment if extradited to the USA.

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National Whistleblower Center: Statement in support of NSA whistleblower

Originally posted 10 June 2013 on the National Whistleblower Center website

Statement of Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center

“Edward Snowden should not be prosecuted. Instead, the White House must keep the promise made by President Obama, during his 2008 election campaign, when he pledged to support legislation that would fully protect all government whistleblowers, including those in sensitive national security positions.”

“Until Congress enacts a law, setting forth reasonable procedures by which civil servants can disclose national security violations to the American people, the government should not prosecute these whistleblowers. Congress and the President must do their jobs, and stop destroying the lives of civil servants who try to report misconduct.”

There is significant historical precedent for the protection of whistleblowers demonstrating that such protections were strongly supported by the Founding Fathers. Mr Kohn previously discussed this precedent in his New York Times op-ed ‘The Whistleblowers of 1777’. Mr Kohn is also the author of The Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself (Lyons Press, 2011).

Edward Snowden's requests for asylum - Courage Foundation

Asylum requests 

Between 19 June and 16 July 2013, 28 applications for asylum to 27 different countries (including twice to Russia), were made on Edward Snowden’s behalf, the majority [19] by WikiLeaks journalist and legal adviser Sarah Harrison to the Russian consulate at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow on 30 June 2013. A further sixasylum applications were made on 5 July, although WikiLeaks stated that those countries would not be named “due to attempted US interference”. He was finally granted temporary asylum in Russia lasting one year on 1 August 2013.

Early negotiations for asylum in Iceland

When talking about his future prospects to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill in avideotaped interview on 9 June 2013 in Hong Kong, Edward Snowden indicated that his first preference for eventual safe harbour would be Iceland because of its strong reputation for protecting internet freedom.

Icelandic free speech activists and some parliamentarians quickly voiced support for the idea. However, Iceland’s ambassador to China told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post that “according to Icelandic law a person can only submit such an application once he/she is in Iceland” and some commenters warned that Iceland’s recent change of government meant that there was less likelihood of asylum being granted there.

In an online Q&A forum Edward Snowden stated he did not travel to Iceland immediately from the United States as he feared the country of only 320,000 could be pressured by Washington: “Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current U.S. Administration”. Icelandic businessman Olafur Vignir Sigurvinsson, former CEO of Datacell, a company that handles donations for WikiLeaks, later confirmed that private donors had chartered a Gulfstream G550 jet to bring Edward Snowden to Iceland at a cost of more than US$240,000 although it was never used, probably because the lack of parliamentary support in Iceland meant Snowden would still be in danger of extradition from there. However, WikiLeaks’ spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic citizen, continued to negotiate directly with ministers as options for asylum in other countries were explored.

Icelandic supporters raised the possibility of granting Snowden citizenship to circumvent the need to be on Icelandic soil in order to apply for asylum, which was used successfully to help chess master Bobby Fischer escape from Japan in 2005 when he faced US extradition and prosecution. It was felt citizenship would also help protect Snowden from onward extradition to the US from Iceland. Icelandic MPs representing the Pirate Party, the Left-Green Movement, Bright Future and the Social Democratic Alliance introduced a bill on 4 July 2013 to Iceland’s Althing parliament to grant Snowden citizenship – the last day of meetings before the parliament broke for its summer recess – however the majority of MPs voted against discussing it. As a result, a decision could not be reached until September at the earliest.

Initial application for asylum in Ecuador and departure from Hong Kong

Edward Snowden said he initially flew to Hong Kong because of its ”spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist pressure from the US government. WikiLeaks tweeted a map of long-haul destinations from Hawaii, noting that, as one of few places with direct flights and no stopovers which cross or enter US or allies’ airspace, “Hong Kong, dangerous as it is, safest option for Snowden”. On 15 June hundreds of protesters ralliedoutside the US consulate in Hong Kong, demanding local authorities protect Mr Snowden. The Hong Kong government promised to handle his case and any extradition request from the US strictly according to established law and policy.

Hong Kong’s extradition treaty with the US was signed in 1997 on its return to Chinese sovereignty, but due to aMarch 2013 ruling by Hong Kong’s High Court asylum-seekers could not be deported until the government established new procedures to review asylum cases – potentially making any US request for extradition a very lengthy process if Edward Snowden sought asylum there first. However, bail would be unlikely to be granted when the US request came in, severely limiting Mr Snowden’s ability to participate in the global debate about surveillance and citizens’ privacy rights he had initiated.

On 23 June 2013 Hong Kong announced Edward Snowden had left Hong Kong and WikiLeaks confirmed he was“bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum”. WikiLeaks journalist and legal adviser Sarah Harrison was to accompany Snowden to Moscow, and from there Harrison planned to accompany him to Ecuador through stopovers in Cuba and Venezuela. Ecuadorian Foreign Minster Ricardo Patino confirmed on Twitter that his government had received an asylum request.

The Hong Kong authorities confirmed that Mr Snowden left the territory of his own accord by the “lawful and normal channel” as the extradition warrant issued by Washington had insufficient information and “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law”. Snowden travelled to Moscow carrying refugee travel documents issued with the help of Ecuador’s London consul Fidel Narvaez in case of any problems (in the event when he reached Moscow the State Department announced they had cancelled his passport), although these were subsequently withdrawn due to errors in authorisation. Edward Snowden later wrote to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa thanking him for his country’s support and noting the “decisive action of your Consul in London, Fidel Narvaez, guaranteed my rights would be protected upon departing Hong Kong – I could never have risked travel without that.”

Attempts to reach asylum in Latin America

Effectively stranded in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport by the US cancelling his passport, Snowden did not board his booked onward flight to Havana the following day. It was not clear whether different airlines would accept Snowden’s temporary travel documents and the US began issuing warning messages to a variety of potential destinations or stopover points. As with Iceland, it was a legal requirement that Edward Snowden be in Ecuador in order for his asylum request to be processed. President Rafael Correa stated his government would still consider Snowden’s application if he could reach an Ecuadorian embassy, saying: “the situation can be processed and resolved there” but that its assessment of the application “could take weeks or months”. He later clarified that Ecuador would not reissue authorised travel documents to extract Snowden from Moscow: “The right of asylum request is one thing, but helping someone travel from one country to another – Ecuador has never done this.”

The legal requirement to be within national territory before an asylum request can be processed is common to many countries and fears grew that the US might seek to prevent Snowden flying across its allies’ airspace to reach any Latin American countries willing to take him. These fears were realised when the plane of the Bolivian President Evo Morales en route from a Moscow summit was forced to land in Vienna, having been denied airspace transit by France, Spain, Portugal and Italy at the behest of the US on suspicion that Edward Snowden was on board (see Political interference for details).

President Evo Morales had previously indicated his openness to granting Edward Snowden asylum in Bolivia, but stated the formal request had not reached him yet: “If there were a request, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea.” Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro also stated he would look favourably on Snowden’s asylum request once it arrived: “No-one has asked us for now, but we say and advocate that someone in the world should stand with this young man and protect him, the revelations he has made with courage serve to change the world.” Both Nicaragua and Cuba made no immediate comment concerning Mr Snowden’s asylum requests, however Brazil quickly said it would not grant asylum, adding that it would leave the request unanswered. WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange later commented that Brazil’s refusal was “disappointing”, especially in light of the fact that Edward Snowden’s revelations had exposed the extent to which the NSA targeted Brazilian communications networks, including that of Petrobras, the largest oil company in Brazil, and the entire contact network of President Dilma Rousseff, along with her top aides.

On 6 July 2013 Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia all confirmed they would offer asylum to Edward Snowden.

Requests for asylum made to European and Asian nations

Despite angry reactions from European leaders to news of the NSA surveillance targeting Europe that had been revealed by Edward Snowden, and loud denunciations of “espionage” by some European officials, Edward Snowden’s asylum requests to Europe were met with lukewarm statements or quickly refused.

Individual country responses

Austria: Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Mr Snowden’s application for asylum was not legally valid because he had not applied in person inside the country. However, if he arrived in Austria he would not be deported as there was “no international warrant for him”.
Brazil: A foreign ministry spokesman said Brazil would not grant asylum, adding that it would leave the request unanswered.
China: Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no information about Snowden’s asylum request.
Cuba: Cuba gave no immediate response to Mr Snowden’s asylum request, its embassy in Moscow declining to comment. However, Cuban president Raul Castro later offered his support for the “sovereign right” of Venezuela and other Latin American countries to grant Snowden asylum.
Finland: Finnish foreign ministry spokeswoman Tytti Pylkkö confirmed they had received a faxed asylum request but that Finnish law required Snowden to be in the country for him to apply.
France: France confirmed it had rejected a request for asylum from Edward Snowden, without citing precise reasons.
Germany: Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said he “could not imagine” that Edward Snowden’s asylum request would be approved. The interior and foreign ministries later issued a joint statement that they were rejecting Mr Snowden’s application and that “the conditions have not been met”.
India: Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin confirmed its embassy in Moscow had received an application for asylum, but “following careful examination we have concluded that we see no reason to accede to the Snowden request”.
Ireland: A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said it did not comment on individual asylum cases but that under Irish law asylum requests could only be accepted from people who had already landed in or were within the country.
Italy: Foreign Minister Emma Bonino stated that asylum requests had to be presented in person at the border or in Italian territory. “As a result there do not exist the legal conditions to accept such a request, which in the government’s view would not be acceptable on a political level either.”
Netherlands: Security and Justice Secretary Fred Teevan said Edward Snowden’s request would be denied because under Dutch law applicants cannot seek asylum when they are not physically present in the Netherlands.
Norway: Application denied, on the basis it needed to be made on Norwegian soil. Deputy Justice Secretary Paal Loenseth remarked: “The Norwegian authorities can theoretically permit entry to Norway and asylum to a person that we think is important for foreign political reasons but I can’t see any such reasons in this particular case.”
Poland: Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on Twitter: “A document, that does not meet the formal conditions for an asylum request, has arrived but even if it did I won’t give a positive recommendation.”
Spain: Foreign Minister José García-Margallo stated: “For it [the application] to be legally admissible, it has to be made by a person who is in Spain.” A ministry official later clarified that Spanish embassies aren’t considered national soil for this purpose, only Spain’s own territory and its land borders.
Switzerland: Switzerland no longer accepts asylum applications at its embassies but asylum-seekers can apply for a three-month humanitarian visa to facilitate travel to Switzerland to fulfil the condition of being on Swiss soil. Valentina Anufrieva of Switzerland’s embassy in Moscow told reporters: “Only when the person’s life is in danger can we make an exception, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here.” Migration Department spokeswoman Celine Kohlprath confirmed Edward Snowden had not yet applied for a humanitarian visa.

There were calls – by the Norwegian PEN Society, a information rights group in Norway, and by German MPs – for formal review of their governments’ decision and suggesting legislation which could be used to facilitate granting Snowden asylum protection, but without success.

Temporary asylum granted in Russia

Edward Snowden made his first request for political asylum in Russia on 30 June 2013, which was delivered to Russian consular officials from the international transit section of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport by Sarah Harrison, a journalist and legal adviser with WikiLeaks. This was withdrawn following remarks by Russian president Vladimir Putin that Mr Snowden would only be welcome on condition he stopped “his work aimed at bringing harm to our American partners”. However, Mr Putin also reiterated that Russia has no extradition treaty with the US and that “Russia never gives anyone up and doesn’t plan to give anyone up… Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information. Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they will be put in prison?”

Without a passport and with nations petitioned by Mr Snowden coming under intense political pressure from Washington, including threats of economic reprisals and the suspension of trade and airspace access, to prevent any from offering asylum and safe passage, onward travel was impossible. On 12 July 2013 Edward Snowden called a press conference at Sheremetyevo airport with representatives of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Transparency International, as well as Russian lawmakers and human rights activists including Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International’s Russia office, prominent Moscow lawyer Genri Reznik and Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin. At the meeting, Edward Snowden formally accepted all offers of support or asylum already received “and all others that may be offered in the future”. He went on to note that the US and some Western European countries had “demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law”, rendering him “stateless and hounded for my act of political expression” and unable to enjoy safe passage to Latin America, despite his formal asylee status following Venezuela’s grant of asylum on 6 July.

Snowden also announced his intention to apply for temporary asylum in Russia “until such time as… my legal travel is permitted”, receipt of which was confirmed by Russian officials on 16 July 2013. The request wasgranted on 1 August 2013 for a period of one year ending 31 July 2014 and includes the right to work and travel within the Russian Federation. Mr Snowden left the airport in a taxi accompanied by WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison for an undisclosed secure location.

Edward Snowden's asylum in Russia - Courage Foundation

Asylum in Russia 

Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA contractor who blew the whistle on its transnational mass surveillance programs, arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on 23 June 2013, en route to Ecuador where he had requested political asylum. However, he was unable to continue his journey due to the extraordinary and disproportionate actions of the US government, which announced it had cancelled his passport while he was in Moscow, rendering him unable to board onward flights. He remained stranded in the airside transit area of Sheremetyevo airport for nearly six weeks until being granted temporary asylum in Russia on 1 August 2013.

Arrival in Moscow from Hong Kong

US authorities made public their indictment of Edward Snowden on charges of theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defense information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence on 21 June 2013. Each of these charges carries a maximum 10-year sentence, with the latter two falling under the 1917 Espionage Act. It thus became clear it was no longer safe for Snowden to remain in Hong Kong as it was unlikely he would receive bail when the Hong Kong authorities actioned the US warrant. Mr Snowden, who had arrived in Hong Kong around 20 May 2013, had been living at an unknown safe address since checking out of his hotel on 10 June. Despite high-level negotiations between the US and HKSAR officials, including a telephone call from US Attorney-General Eric Holder on 19 June 2013, the Hong Kong authorities announced that the extradition paperwork had “insufficient information” and that Edward Snowden had departed the territory on 23 June through the “normal legal channel”. “There is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.”

A WikiLeaks statement confirmed that Edward Snowden had requested that WikiLeaks use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety and that he had departed Hong Kong legally and was on a flight “bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum” escorted by WikiLeaks personnel. WikiLeaks later confirmed that the “safe route” referred to the lack of an extradition treaty between the US and Russia. Snowden was travelling legally and also had a ‘safe passage’ document issued by Ecuador’s London consul, which WikiLeaks had requested for him in case of any issues. The US did, in fact, cancel Snowden’s passport, which they announced on the 23 June while he was in Sheremetyevo airport transit area.

Sheremetyevo airport officials confirmed that Edward Snowden’s flight arrived at around 5pm on 23 June, but that he couldn’t leave the airport’s transit zone as he had no Russian visa. Mr Snowden was expected to stay overnight in the international section’s capsule hotel as he was booked on a flight to Havana the following day. However, as he was now without a valid passport, he never boarded that flight.

Denial of safe passage

The US administration expressed its displeasure that Snowden had been allowed to leave Hong Kong despite its extradition request, saying it “did not buy” Hong Kong’s explanations. A National Security Council spokesperson told reporters: “We expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr Snowden back to the US to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged”. US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia it would be “deeply troubling” if it allowed Snowden to board a plane out of the country. Other US politicians went further, for example Senator Chuck Schumer accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “aiding and abetting Snowden’s escape”.

Meanwhile Ecuador was coming under intense political pressure from Washington to reject Edward Snowden’s asylum request, which included threats of economic reprisals and a personal telephone call from US Vice-President Joseph Biden to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa involving “a broad conversation regarding the bilateral relationship”. A National Security Council spokeswoman confirmed: “They did discuss Mr Snowden, but we are not going to provide details on their discussion.” The following day Correa confirmed that Snowden’s ‘safe pass’ document was invalid as it had not been properly authorised and that it would not be replaced. Without a passport or other refugee travel documents, and with indications that the US would prevent any flight he was on crossing US or NATO-controlled airspace (see Political interference), onward travel to Latin America was impossible.

Extended stay in Sheremetyevo airport

The media amassed at Sheremetyevo airport eager to catch a glimpse of the whistleblower who had sparked a global debate about unwarranted government intrusion into citizens’ private communications, but Edward Snowden remained out of sight and no one was sure what would happen next. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a statement on 25 June 2013 that Edward Snowden was not in Russia as he had not exited through passport control and therefore “did not cross the Russian border”. He said his government had not been involved in Snowden’s travel as he was a transit passenger and had not needed a Russian visa: “I would like to say right away that we have no relation to either Mr Snowden or to his relationship with American justice or to his movements around the world. He chose his route on his own, and we found out about it, as most here did, from mass media,” but he did not elaborate further on Edward Snowden’s exact whereabouts.

In late August 2013 there were conflicting reports about contact between Edward Snowden and Russian officials prior to his departure for Moscow. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Snowden had stayed at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong. This was disputed by Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, but Vladimir Putin later confirmed some of the details, stating that the Hong Kong consulate had been contacted for help by Snowden or on his behalf.

Russian response to Snowden’s presence

On Wednesday 26 June 2013 Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Snowden was still in Sheremetyevo’s transit area and that he would not be deported to the US. Perhaps with a view to maintaining US-Russian bilateral relations at a time when they had been improving, Putin said Snowden’s presence in Russia was like an “unwanted Christmas gift” and described dealing with the situation as “like shearing a pig”. He said Russia’s security services “did not work and are not working with Snowden” (this was later confirmed by WikiLeaks, who stated Snowden had not been interrogated by the Russians, and added: “Since Hong Kong we have had someone physically by his side the entire time.”) Mr Putin also noted that Snowden had not broken any Russian laws and was therefore free to leave and “should do so”.

In its public statements the US administration softened its stance, saying it was not seeking a confrontation and would “simply appeal for calm and reasonableness”. Recognising that there was no bilateral extradition treaty between the two nations, Secretary of State John Kerry argued: “But there are standards of behavior between sovereign nations. There is common law. There is respect for rule of law. And we would simply call on our friends in Russia to respect the fact that a partner nation, a co-member of the Permanent 5 of the United Nations, has made a normal request under legal assistance for law to be upheld.” Nevertheless, Putin remained open to providing shelter for Snowden: “Russia never gives anyone up and doesn’t plan to give anyone up… Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information. Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they will be put in prison?” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov later confirmed that public opinion would be taken into account in Snowden’s case, along with the viewpoints of human rights experts.

First request for asylum in Russia

Edward Snowden’s first request for political asylum in Russia  – made on 30 June 2013 along with 18 others to countries in Latin America, Europe and Asia – was delivered to Russian consular officials in the international transit section of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport by WikiLeaks journalist and legal adviser Sarah Harrison. However, the request was withdrawn following remarks by Russian president Vladimir Putin that asylum was conditional on Snowden stopping his work “bringing harm to our American partners”.

Asylum requests to other countries

Edward Snowden also submitted asylum requests while at Moscow Sheremetyevo airport to Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela. This brought the number of countries approached to 21, including the applications already made to Ecuador and Iceland. A further six countries were sent formal asylum requests on 5 July 2013, but these were not named to avoid any further political interference from the United States. Most of the applications were swiftly rejected, but on 6 July 2013 Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua all separately confirmed that they would grant Mr Snowden asylum.

12 July meeting with NGOs

The problem of obtaining safe passage out of Russia still remained, however, and nearly three weeks after he arrived there Edward Snowden, assisted by Sarah Harrison, held a meeting with human rights organisations and lawyers at Sheremetyevo airport to address this issue and to widen support for his plight. Representatives of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Transparency International were invited, as well as Russian lawmakers and human rights activists including Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International’s Russia office, prominent Moscow lawyer Genri Reznik and Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin. For security reasons, and despite the huge media presence in the airport, it was announced that the meeting would be closed to the press.

The US administration expressed its strong disapproval that this meeting took place, characterised it as a “propaganda platform”, and criticised any Russian officials who helped facilitate it. A State Department spokeswoman said of Edward Snowden: “He’s not a whistleblower. He’s not a human rights activist,” describing him instead as wanted on “a series of serious criminal charges brought in the eastern district of Virginia and the United States”.

At the meeting, Edward Snowden formally accepted all offers of support or asylum already received “and all others that may be offered in the future“. He went on to note that the US and some Western European countries had “demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law”, rendering him “stateless and hounded for my act of political expression” and unable to enjoy safe passage to Latin America, despite his formal asylee status following Venezuela’s grant of asylum on 6 July. Snowden also announced his intention to apply for temporary asylum in Russia “until such time as… my legal travel is permitted”, receipt of which was confirmed by Russian officials on 16 July 2013.

Grant of one-year temporary asylum

Edward Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena confirmed that his client would observe Vladimir Putin’s condition of asylum to not harm US interests. Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch quoted Snowden as saying: “No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the US”, so Putin’s condition posed no obstacle.

On 23 July US Attorney-General Eric Holder wrote to Russian Minister for Justice Alexander Konovalovconfirming that the charges against Snowden were not death penalty offences and that torture is unlawful in the United States. This was an attempt to eliminate the “asserted grounds for Mr Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise”.

Edward Snowden’s request for asylum was granted on 1 August 2013 for a period of one year ending 31 July 2014. Anatoly Kucherena confirmed Mr Snowden’s asylee status includes the right to work and travel within the Russian Federation, and that it can be extended annually. It means he can only be returned to the United States if he agrees to go voluntarily, even if a formal extradition request is filed. After five years he will be entitled to apply for Russian citizenship. Once he had received his certificate of refugee status from the Federal Migration Service, Mr Snowden was able to leave Sheremetyevo airport for the first time in nearly six weeks. WikiLeaks reported that Snowden said: “Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning. I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations.” He left the airport around 3pm in a taxi, accompanied by WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison, for an undisclosed secure location.

US reaction

The White House announced that it was “extremely disappointed” by the Russian government’s decision to grant Mr Snowden asylum and that it was “reconsidering” a planned meeting between presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit scheduled for early September. On 7 August 2013 President Obama’s travel to Russia to meet Mr Putin was cancelled. Although the White House claimed the cancellation had nothing to do with Edward Snowden’s asylum, there is no doubt that relations between the US and Russia have chilled subsequently. Some US senators called for more “serious repercussions”, urging the President to recommend moving the G20 summit away from Russia, or to implement a US boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. Senator John McCain called on the US to “fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia” while Senator Lindsey Graham urged the US to expand NATO membership to Georgia and to push forward with controversial plans to build a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

Following President Maduro’s announcement on 6 July 2013 that Venezuela would grant Snowden asylum,Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua received a personal call from John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, in which he threatened the loss of trade in oil and gas products, the withdrawal of US visas for Venezuelan officials and businessmen, prosecution of Venezuelan politicians for drug-trafficking and money-laundering, and the refusal of access to NATO-controlled airspace.

Current status

Edward Snowden is currently legally safe as the holder of a three-year residency permit in Russia, granted in August 2014; however, as his personal security is still at significant risk, his location cannot be revealed. He has chosen not to give many media interviews. Although his outings need to be threat-assessed on each occasion, he enjoys going unrecognised as he goes about his daily life. He is immersing himself in the Russian culture and learning the language. Following a recent visit, his father Lon Snowden confirmed “he’s comfortable, he’s happy, and he’s absolutely committed to what he has done”. A short video is available of Lon Snowden speaking to the press outside Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after his visit to his son.

Political interference with Edward Snowden's Human Rights - Courage Foundation

Political interference

US requests for the extradition and arrest of Edward Snowden

On 9 June 2013 Edward Snowden revealed himself as the source of NSA documents published by the Guardianduring an interview in a Hong Kong hotel room, his temporary place of residence. A US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a criminal complaint five days later, charging Snowden with theft of government property and two other charges under the 1917 Espionage Act: “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”.

After Snowden left Hong Kong for Russia on 23 June, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government issued a statement on their rejection of a provisional arrest warrant for Edward Snowden from the US on the grounds that it “did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law”.

Russia also rejected an extradition request (prior to granting him asylum) while Snowden was staying in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on the grounds that he had not crossed the border into Russia and that Russia and the US “have no bilateral agreement on extradition”.

The US also sent extradition and arrest warrants to countries which Edward Snowden was not present in but he had sent requests for asylum.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro responded to an extradition request from the US saying that he would reject any extradition request for Snowden and that the US government “[does] not have the moral right to request the extradition of a young man who is only warning of the illegalities committed by the Pentagon and the CIA and the United States”. He further commented that the US is “simply disregarding bilateral agreements”.

Bolivia rejected an extradition request, with the Foreign Ministry commenting that the request was “strange, illegal, unfounded” as Edward Snowden was not present in the country.

Ireland rejected an arrest warrant, stating that the warrant failed to state where Snowden’s alleged offences took place.

It was also reported that Iceland received an extradition request.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki further warned countries about allowing Edward Snowden to travel in a statement: “Persons wanted on felony charges, such as Mr Snowden, should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States.”

Warnings, pressure and threats from US government officials

US warns Hong Kong of reprisals

While Edward Snowden was in Hong Kong the US requested his arrest and extradition. A senior White House official warned of future diplomatic reprisals, stating: “If Hong Kong doesn’t act soon, it will complicate our bilateral relations and raise questions about Hong Kong’s commitment to the rule of law.”

After Snowden left Hong Kong, White House press secretary Jay Carney stated that Hong Kong having allowed Snowden to board a flight “unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship”. He continued: “We see this as a setback in terms of their efforts to build mutual trust and our concerns are pretty clearly stated” and said that US authorities “did not buy” Hong Kong’s reasons for rejecting the extradition request.

US pressures Ecuador not to grant asylum

US Vice-President Joe Biden personally called Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to urge him against granting asylum to Edward Snowden, who had already submitted asylum requests to Ecuador and other countries.

US Senator Robert Menendez, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that should Ecuador offer asylum to Snowden, they would risk losing US trade benefits. In response, Ecuador renounced its trade benefits and offered the US$23 million a year to fund human rights education.

US condemns Russia for giving Snowden “propaganda platform”

While staying in Sheremetyevo International Airport, Edward Snowden held a press conference where he met with representatives from multiple human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It was his first public appearance since his interview with Glenn Greenwald, published by the Guardian on 9 June 2013.

President Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney was quick to condemn the meeting, stating: “I would simply say that 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.” On the attendence by human rights organisations, Carney commented: “Those groups do important work. But Mr Snowden is not a human rights activist or a dissident.”

Secrectary of State threatens Venezuela after it offers asylum to Snowden

Shortly after Venezuela agreed to offer asylum to Edward Snowden, US Secrectary of State John Kerry personally called Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and threatened to ground any Venezuelan aircraft in US or NATO airspace over any suspicion of Snowden’s presence on board. He also said he would intensify the ongoing process of revoking US entry visas to those associated with the late Hugo Chavez and begin prosecuting Venezuelan politicians on allegations of drug-trafficking, money-laundering and other crimes. He further threatened to cut off fuel supplies, stating his awareness of Venezuela’s dependence on US oil.

Obama cancels meeting with Putin over Snowden

President Obama pulled out of a planned bilateral meeting in Moscow with President Putin in response to Russia granting asylum to Edward Snowden. The White House stated that other issues contributed to the decision but commented specifically on Snowden, saying: “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship.” During an apperance on NBC’s Tonight Show President Obama commented directly on the issue, stating: “There have been times where [Russia slips] back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality.”

US threatens Germany not to grant asylum

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said that the US government threatened to “cut off” its intelligence sharing relationship with Germany if the country granted Edward Snowden asylum or safe passage.

Harassment of people and organisations associated with Snowden

Forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane

During a flight home from Moscow, the Bolivian presidential plane carrying President Evo Morales was forced to reroute and land in Vienna over false rumours that Edward Snowden was on board. Prior to the incident, President Morales had stated he would consider granting asylum to Snowden. The flight was set for a refuelling stop in Lisbon, but had been denied airspace permission from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, according to Bolivian Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra, who said France and Portugal cited “technical reasons“. The plane remained in Vienna for 14 hours while waiting for airspace approval from the four European nations. In the meantime, Austrian border police checked the plane, but Spain’s ambassador to Austria was denied access by President Morales.

This came shortly after President Obama stated during a press conference that he was “not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker”.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo stated that Spain and other European countries were told Snowden was aboard President Morales’ plane, but did not specify the source of the information: “They told us that the information was clear, that [Snowden] was inside.”

The US declined to comment on the incident. President Morales denounced the act, saying: “This was an open provocation toward a continent, not just a president. North American imperialism uses its people to terrify and intimidate us. I just want to say they will never frighten us because we are a people of dignity and sovereignty.”

UNASUR (Union of South American Countries) called an emergency meeting in relation to the incident. They issued a statement expressing solidarity with Bolivia and President Morales, while condemning the “unfriendly and unjustifiable” act and demanding an explanation. President Morales also filed a formal complaint to the United Nations.

Detainment and investigation of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda

David Miranda, partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald and a Brazilian citizen, was detained by UK authorities while in transit at Heathrow airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. His electronics were confiscated, including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. It was revealed at a later court hearing that Miranda was detained as part of a criminal investigation by the UK Home Office and Metropolitan Police under suspicion that he was transporting classified material. Miranda was returning from a trip to Berlin where he had visited filmmaker Laura Poitras.

During his nine-hour detainment, Miranda was denied access to his lawyers, as well as a translator. Brazilian officials and lawyers for the Guardian newspaper were also unable to obtain any information during that time.

In an interview Miranda said: “They were threatening me all the time and saying I would be put in jail if I didn’t co-operate. They treated me like I was a criminal or someone about to attack the UK… It was exhausting and frustrating, but I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” He further stated: “It is clear why they took me. It’s because I’m Glenn’s partner. Because I went to Berlin. Because Laura lives there. So they think I have a big connection. But I don’t have a role. I don’t look at documents. I don’t even know if it was documents that I was carrying. It could have been for the movie that Laura is working on.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated that the US had received a “heads up” prior to the UK’s detainment of Miranda. However, they denied involvement in the actual decision.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras have both been involved in breaking stories based on information revealed by Edward Snowden.

WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison at risk

WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison accompanied Edward Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow and during his 39-day stay inside Sheremetyevo airport. Harrison remained with Snowden in order to protect his safety and security.

Government Accountability Project lawyer Jesselyn Radack noted the risks facing Harrison and other people associated with Edward Snowden. Harrison has also been advised by lawyers that she is at risk from both the US and UK due to her journalistic work with Snowden, and thus she is unable to return to the UK.

WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange informally requested that Brazil grant asylum to Sarah Harrison due to the risks she is facing.

Destruction of the Guardian’s hard drives

Two GCHQ (the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, equivalent to the US National Security Agency) officers oversaw the destruction of hard drives in the basement of the Guardian newspaper.

A senior UK government official had met with the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger to demand the return or destruction of all material from Edward Snowden that the newspaper was working on. Rusbridger wrote that he had received a call “from the centre of the government” who told him: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.”

Rusbridger further stated that he allowed the “slightly pointless” destruction of the hard drives, as the Guardianwas in possession of multiple digital copies outside Britain and thus able to continue publication.

Emails obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act show that senior NSA officials were given advance notice of the destruction of the Guardian hard drives, which current deputy NSA director Richard Ledgett described as “good news”.

Protecting Edward Snowden - Courage Foundation

Protection overview

The aim of this website is to protect the human rights of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed secret NSA surveillance programs to monitor and intercept the world’s internet communications, and to explain:

  • the threats Edward Snowden faces, and why it is important that his rights are protected
  • how he is being protected, and by who
  • what you can do to support Edward Snowden
  • what you can do to protect your own private communications from unwarranted surveillance and intrusion.

Edward Snowden left Hong Kong on 23 June 2013 with the help of WikiLeaks to avoid extradition to the US following publication of his revelations about NSA mass surveillance programs in the Guardian and Washington Post. He applied for political asylum to a total of 27 countries, eventually gaining temporary asylum for one year in Russia on 1 August 2013. He is currently safe in Russia at an undisclosed location.

Edward Snowden receiving the Sam Adams Award on 9 October 2013 in Moscow, alongside WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison (2nd R), who took Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow and obtained his asylum, and the US government whistleblowers who presented the award, (L-R): Coleen Rowley (FBI), Thomas Drake (NSA), Jesselyn Raddack (DoJ) and Ray McGovern (CIA).

Threats to Edward Snowden from the US

Edward Snowden has been charged by the US government with theft of government property (18 USC § 641), unauthorised communication of national defense information (18 USC § 793(d)) and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorised person (18 USC § 798(a)(3)). These charges together incur a maximum 30-year prison sentence and, as happened in Chelsea Manning’s case, it is possible that a second set of charges might be added at a later date. Two of the current charges fall under the draconian 1917 Espionage Act, for which there is no public interest or whistleblower defence allowed. The threat these charges pose to Edward Snowden should be seen in the context of the intensifying ‘war on whistleblowers’ of the current US administration, which has now embarked on its ninth Espionage Act prosecution over leaks to the press (the ninth is former FBI agent Donald Sachtlenben, for which the US government secretly obtained the telephone records of AP reporters). This is three times more than all previous administrations combined.

“The campaign to flush out media sources smacks of retaliation and intimidation. The Obama administration is right to protect information that might legitimately undermine national security or put Americans at risk. However, it does not protect national security interests when it brings cases against whistleblowers who divulge information that communicates important information to the public; sparks meaningful dialogue; or exposes fraud, waste, abuse, illegality, or potential dangers to public health and safety.” The Criminalization of Whistleblowing [pdf], Jesselyn Radack & Kathleen McClellan, Government Accountability Project

For more on the threats faced by Edward Snowden, see this Congressional Research Service report Criminal Prohibitions on the Publication of Classified Defense Information, updated September 2013 to include Snowden, and the Threats section of this website.

What is an asylee, and what are the laws governing asylum?

An asylee is a person who is seeking or has been granted asylum outside of his or her country of nationality on the basis that they are unable or unwilling to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. This definition is set out in the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The right to seek asylum is also codified in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Edward Snowden’s fear of persecution if he is returned to the US is well-founded. The recent trial and 35-year sentence of Chelsea (previously Bradley) Manning has shown that the defence strategies a whistleblower can employ against an Espionage Act charge are severely curtailed, making it impossible to receive a fair trial. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights has also highlighted concerns over how Snowden might be treated in pre- or post-trial detention:

“Think about how the US defines torture. The US doesn’t really think that anything it did under the Bush era was torture, with the exception possibly of waterboarding. So that means Ed Snowden can be subjected to every enhanced interrogation techniques – you know, lights on all the time, loud noise, cold temperatures, hot temperatures, strapped into a chair. All of the, quote, “enhanced interrogation techniques” are allowed under US view of torture. That’s one. Secondly, prolonged, arbitrary detention? It doesn’t say anything in [Eric Holder’s] letter we won’t put him into some underground cell and keep him there the rest of his life. And then it says he doesn’t have any right to asylum. And that’s just wrong. Whistleblowers are entitled to apply for asylum, and it can’t be interfered with by the United States.”

International customary law includes the principles of non-refoulment and safe passage. Non-refoulment prohibits states from returning refugees in any manner whatsoever to countries or territories in which their lives or freedom may be threatened, and is binding on all states. The US ignored international law in preventing safe passage for Edward Snowden from Moscow to Latin America by obstructing access to US allies’ airspace and threatening economic consequences for any country which granted him asylum. The UN General Assembly Resolution 2312 (1967) states that: “the grant of asylum… is a peaceful and humanitarian act and… as such, it cannot be regarded as unfriendly by any other State.” Read more at Political interference.

Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia

Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong on 23 June 2013, en route to Ecuador where he had requested political asylum. However, he was unable to continue his journey due to the extraordinary and disproportionate actions of the US government, which announced it had cancelled his passport while he was in Moscow, rendering him unable to board onward flights. He remained stranded in the airside transit area of Sheremetyevo airport for nearly six weeks until being granted temporary asylum in Russia on 1 August 2013. In August 2014, Edward Snowden was granted a three-year residence permit, which gives him the right to work and travel within the Russian Federation and to travel abroad for periods of up to three months. For more information, see Asylum in Russia.

Who else offered Edward Snowden protection?

Countries
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua all made formal offers of asylum to Edward Snowden on 6 July 2013. Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro said: “He has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the US spying on the whole world. Who is the guilty one?” Although Mr Snowden was prevented from travelling there, many commenters still think Latin America the best ultimate destination for him. Edward Snowden wrote to Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa thanking him for his country’s support, and a group of Latin American experts wrote anopen letter criticising the Western media meme of the ‘irony’ of Snowden’s request for asylum in Venezuela.

WikiLeaks
As a publishing organisation, WikiLeaks campaigns for greater protection of journalistic sources and has taken a leading role in assisting Edward Snowden.

Extraction from Hong Kong: At Edward Snowden’s request, WikiLeaks stepped in to help him get out of Hong Kong safely. During this period WikiLeaks also brokered several asylum offers for Snowden. For Edward Snowden’s journey from Hong Kong, WikiLeaks provided a legal adviser to accompany him at all times to ensure his safety and then assisted in making asylum requests to more than two dozen countries once he was trapped in the Sheremetyevo airport transit terminal after the US cancelled his passport.
Advocacy: WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange has given several media interviews from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, in which he called Edward Snowden a “hero”. WikiLeaks also released a number of press statements on behalf of Edward Snowden, see here, here and here. Mr Assange and Reporters Without Borders general secretary Christophe Deloire wrote a joint op-ed in Le Monde calling for European nations to protect Edward Snowden.
Continued care: At Edward Snowden’s request, a WikiLeaks representative remained with him at all times while he starts his life in Russia. Sarah Harrison stayed with Mr Snowden for four months until she was sure that he was settled and “free from the interference of any government.”

NGOs and other whistleblowers
Many organisations have issued statements and comments supporting Edward Snowden, including Amnesty International, Index on Censorship, the National Whistleblowers Center, the Freedom of the Press Foundationand the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU confirmed that it was helping to coordinate Mr Snowden’s legal defence, stating: “The ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecutable under the nation’s espionage laws.”

US national security whistleblowers Thomas Drake, Kirk Wiebe and Jesselyn Radack all praised the actions of Edward Snowden when testifying before a European Parliament committee investigating NSA/GCHQ surveillance. Ms Radack also read out a statement from Edward Snowden giving his own contribution to the committee hearing.

Ladar Levison, the owner of the Lavabit encrypted email service used by Edward Snowden, has resisted secret court orders to provide an encryption work-around affecting 400,000 customers’ private data, going so far as to close his business rather than become “complicit in crimes against the American people”. He was eventually forced to comply with the court order.

Awards & nominations

Awards given to Edward Snowden, or for which he has been nominated, include:

How can supporters take action to help protect Edward Snowden?

Our Take action! section outlines lots of different ways to support Edward Snowden and to protect your own digital communications from unwarranted surveillance.

  • Sign petitions such as ACLU‘s, Index on Censorship‘s, the We The People petition on the White House web portal or the Stop Watching Us petition to Congress. For more, see the Petitions page.
  • Sign or write open letters, like this one started by film director Oliver Stone or this one addressed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We will publish details of open letters that are seeking signatures or can be used as a template to create your own letter-writing campaign as they become available.
  • Make your voice heard in opinion polls. As more of Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance were published, polls by Reuters/IPSOS and Quinnipiac University showed a sharp upswing in the number of people who thought Snowden was a “whistleblower” or a “patriot”.
  • Take part in local or international events to rally support for Edward Snowden and bring attention to the issues his whistleblowing has raised, such as Freedom Not Fear, Restore the Fourth or Stop Watching Us.
  • See our Take action! section for Five easy actions you can do, both to support Edward Snowden and to protect your own privacy. Links to a range of programs you can use to secure your communications are given in the Privacy enhancing technologies section (coming soon).