Snowden lawyers explore EU asylum options

Edward Snowden's lawyers are exploring his options for asylums in the EU. […]

Edward Snowden has asylum in Russia until 2020 but his lawyers have said it’s time EU countries “pay back” for exposing the extent of American snooping by giving him legal protection.

Snowden’s lawyers haven’t formally applied for asylum in any EU countries since he leaked evidence of the United States’ surveillance activities in 2013. But they want to.

They argue he should be able to move freely between those countries like any EU citizen. So far, no country in the bloc has guaranteed that he can travel there safely and without being extradited to the US.

“It’s against all European standards, what he’s expecting in the US,” Snowden’s Berlin-based lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck said today at a hearing (23 January) in the European Parliament. The lawyer pointed out that Snowden could even be sentenced separately for all the data he leaked, putting him behind bars for up to 1,000 years.

“We think the European Union member states have the obligation to support him,” Kaleck said.

MEPs passed a non-binding resolution in 2015 asking EU countries to guarantee Snowden would not be extradited to the US, where he has been charged with stealing and sharing secret intelligence documents. The disclosures exposed broad surveillance by American intelligence agencies and caused outrage in the US and in Europe.

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Kaleck said they were hopeful about Snowden’s chances in Sweden when a delegation of Swedish politicians came to a meeting in Moscow, but the government refused to grant his request for a safe travel guarantee to a receive a human rights award there in 2014. A Norwegian court struck down a similar request from Snowden’s lawyers last year.

“We’re not desperate,” Kaleck said, referring to Russia’s approval of a three-year asylum extension for the whistleblower last week.

Kaleck and Snowden’s US-based lawyer are monitoring political tides in countries across Europe and Latin America and are readying possible asylum applications in case they see politicians becoming more amenable to privacy and civil liberties. They hoped Spain’s new government that came together last year would be sympathetic to their appeals, but that didn’t pan out.

Germany’s top constitutional court is currently weighing an appeal that could guarantee Snowden legal access to testify at a Bundestag committee on surveillance in Berlin. But the invitation to testify has caused squabbling between political parties.

“People are looking with a lot of optimism towards Iceland right now,” said Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Iceland’s pro-privacy Pirate Party won 14.5% of votes behind two other parties in parliamentary elections last October.

The ACLU started a campaign last autumn to pressure then-President Obama to pardon Snowden, but the NGO discontinued the campaign when Donald Trump took office last Friday.

Trump called Snowden a “traitor” and a “terrible threat” in 2013.

Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, another government whistleblower, one week before his term ended. Obama argued that he could not pardon Snowden because he never stood trial.

“You don’t need a conviction to be pardoned. Pardons are not for people who did not commit crimes, they’re for people who did commit crimes,” Wizner said.

After Snowden’s leaked documents were published in 2013, prompting his escape to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, US government officials reportedly asked multiple EU countries to extradite the whistleblower if he arrived there. Snowden’s lawyers say he needs guarantees that he won’t be hauled off to the US if President Trump amps up pressure on any country to deny him protection.

“Especially now with the current regime in the US we have to be very watchful of that,” Wizner said.

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