NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is finding that his options for political asylum are narrowing after he sent asylum requests to 21 countries and many of them, including most of those in Europe, have been rejected. Snowden is now accusing President Obama of violating his rights by intimidating countries into refusing his requests.
Snowden even applied to Russia for asylum—but he withdrew his application after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned him that he should stop “harming our American partners,” a significant shift in Russia’s position that started out with much more sympathy toward Snowden.
Analysts believe the change in perspective has come about because Snowden’s extended stay in legal limbo at a Moscow airport gives Russia ownership of the Snowden affair, leading Moscow to calculate the long-term consequences of creating a serious rift with Washington.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Snowden withdrew the application for asylum in Russia because they had insisted he should give up “anti-American activity.”
“After learning of Russia’s position yesterday, voiced by President Putin … he abandoned his intention [of staying] and his request to be able to stay in Russia,” he said.
Putin had said that while Moscow “never hands over anybody anywhere,” Snowden could only stay on condition that he stopped damaging Russia’s “American partners” with his leaks.
Snowden has sent asylum requests to a list of countries that includes India, China, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, according to WikiLeaks, which is helping Snowden. Sarah Harrison, a British member of the Wikileaks legal team acting as Snowden’s representative, submitted the letters to Moscow officials to be distributed to the appropriate embassies in Moscow.
But the list of rejections was growing earlier today: Norway said he was unlikely to get asylum there; Poland said it would not give a “positive recommendation” to any request; while France, Iceland and Italy said they had not received any formal request for asylum. In addition, Norway, Poland, Germany, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Spain and Switzerland said asylum requests could only be made on their soil.
But his prospects look considerably more favorable in South America. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa told the Agence France-Presse news agency on Monday that it would process Snowden’s asylum request if he managed to enter an Ecuadorean embassy. But if he can complete his asylum request on Russian territory, then “the situation can be processed and resolved there,” Correa added.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the successor to the late virulently anti-American President Hugo Chavez, said during a visit to Moscow that Caracas had not yet received an asylum application from Snowden, but that he had “done something very important for humanity” and “deserved the world’s protection.”
“The world’s conscience should react, the world youth should react, the decent people who want a peaceful world should react, everyone should react and find solidarity with this young man who has denounced and altered the world that they [the U.S.] pretend to control,” said Maduro, who frequently makes aggressively anti-American statements in the style of his predecessor.
Since Snowden’s U.S. passport has been revoked, he has no travel documents and does not have a valid Russian visa to leave the airport.
In a statement released by WikiLeaks yesterday, Snowden accused the Obama administration of deception in a campaign to prevent him from finding political asylum and of “leaving me a stateless person” by revoking his U.S. passport.
“This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile,” he said.
“Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right,” Snowden said. “A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum … Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.”
In an undated letter sent to Ecuador’s Correa and seen by Reuters, Snowden said, “I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest…No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world. If any of those days ahead realize a contribution to the common good, the world will have the principles of Ecuador to thank.”
U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre rejected Snowden’s allegations “since he is still a United States citizen and his country is willing to take him back.”
Speaking in Tanzania yesterday, President Barack Obama said Moscow and Washington had held “high-level discussions” about Snowden.