Edward Snowden appears at Moscow airport and renews asylum claim

Paul Owen and Tom McCarthy| guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 13.17 EDT

Edward Snowden along with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks (left) at a press conference in SheremetyevoEdward Snowden along with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks (left) at a meeting with human rights campaigners in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow today. Photograph: Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch

5.17pm BST

Snowden said he “can easily accept” a condition that he stop leakingin order to gain temporary asylum in Russia, according to a Russian MP who attended the airport meeting, in comments reported by the Associated Press. A note of caution: No transcript has yet emerged of Snowden’s full statement remarks and the parliamentarian’s account could not be independently verified:

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told Russian news agencies after the announcement Friday that Russia has not yet received a new bid for asylum from Snowden and that Putin would continue with his insistence that Snowden stop leaking information.

Both Nikonov and Genri Reznik, a lawyer who participated in the meeting, said Snowden was willing to stop leaks.

“He said he was informed of this condition and that he can easily accept it. He does not intend to damage the United States’ interests given that he is a patriot of his country,” Nikonov said.

Snowden did say, according to Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, that he has no intention of harming US interests but it was unclear whether by his thinking that rules out further leaks. Read the full piece here.

Update: As previously reported, Wikileaks has a transcript of Snowden’s statement, but it doesn’t include his unscripted remarks in which he apparently made the comment about having no intention of harming US interests.

Updated at 5.37pm BST

5.00pm BST

Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Russia, has contacted the New Yorker to deny previous reports that he had sought to convey a message to Snowden that Snowden is not a ‘whistleblower.’

McFaul’s account directly contradicts a description of the Snowden meeting published by Wikileaks:

 The Human Rights Watch representative used this opportunity to tell Mr Snowden that on her way to the airport she had received a call from the US Ambassador to Russia, who asked her to relay to Mr Snowden that the US Government does not categorise Mr Snowden as a whistleblower and that he has broken United States law. This further proves the United States Government’s persecution of Mr Snowden and therefore that his right to seek and accept asylum should be upheld.

BREAKING: @McFaul has emailed New Yorker, says he DID NOT contact human rights rep who met Snowden, as reported here: http://t.co/aup6nXleqB

— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) July 12, 2013

4.55pm BST

Guardian diplomatic editor Julian Borger describes Snowden’s asylum Catch-22:

Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s senior director for international law and policy, said that the Latin American states involved could theoretically have sent envoys to Sheremetyevo to furnish Snowden with travel documents.

“However, that would be a highly unusual procedure for use in extremis,” Brown said. “It may be that these states would prefer to go through the normal procedures for adjudicating asylum claims.”

Snowden’s strategy – to appeal for temporary asylum in Russia to allow him to file for asylum elsewhere – is a response to these conditions. He is responding to Putin’s conditionality by insisting he has no intention of harming the true interests of his home country, but it is not clear whether he would agree to a temporary gag while in Moscow. Judged on his record so far, it would seem out of character, but he may have little choice.

Read the full piece here. 

Updated at 4.55pm BST

4.31pm BST

Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International’s Moscow officewho was at today’s meeting, has put out a statement backing Snowden and promising to “continue to pressure governments to ensure his rights are respected – this includes the unassailable right to claim asylum wherever he may choose”. Nitikin said:

Amnesty International was pleased to reiterate our support for Edward Snowden in person.

We will continue to pressure governments to ensure his rights are respected – this includes the unassailable right to claim asylum wherever he may choose.

What he has disclosed is patently in the public interest and as a whistleblower his actions were justified.

He has exposed unlawful sweeping surveillance programmes that unquestionably interfere with an individual’s right to privacy.

States that attempt to stop a person from revealing such unlawful behaviour are flouting international law.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right.

Instead of addressing or even owning up to these blatant breaches, the US government is more intent on persecuting him.

Attempts to pressure governments to block his efforts to seek asylum are deplorable.

4.28pm BST

Summary

Here are the key points from Edward Snowden’s statement to human rights groups at Sheremetyevo airport, as published by WikiLeaks.

• He said that his revelations of his professional “capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications, anyone’s communications, at any time” had drawn attention to “a serious violations of the law”, under the US constitution and the universal declaration of human rights. He hit back at US claims that secret court rulings legalised such surveillance, saying: “These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done.”

• He invoked the second world war and the crimes of the Nazis by claiming he was acting according to principles set down at the Nuremburg trials, namely that individuals have a duty to humanity over and above their duty to their country. “individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring,” he said.

• Snowden said that he had not aimed to enrich himself by passing on his secrets, and nor had he “partnered” with any foreign government to guarantee his safety.

• He said the US had violated international laws in putting pressure on other countries not to take him in, something he said represented a threat to “the basic rights shared by every person, every nation, to live free from persecution, and to seek and enjoy asylum”.

• He said nations including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador had offered him asylum and said he accepted all of the offers and any others he may be given in the future. Referring specifically to Venezuela, he said his “asylee status” was now formal and said no country had a right to limit his right to take up that offer. But because of the “unlawful threat” of the US and European countries it was currently “impossible” for him to travel to Latin America to take up such an offer.

• He asked Human Rights Watch and Amnesty to assist him in securing guarantees of safe passage to Latin America, and to help him with his asylum request to Moscow.

4.22pm BST

Tany Lokshina has confirmed that the US embassy called her before the meeting to ask her to pass on to Snowden the message that he was not a whistleblower.

4.14pm BST

short video has emerged showing Snowden at the meeting.

4.10pm BST

Update: McFaul has denied he sought to convey a message to Snowden that Snowden is not a “whistleblower.” Original post follows:

Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker is reporting that Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Russia, called a member of the human rights delegation today and asked her to pass on to the message to Snowden that he is not a whistleblower.

US amb. to Russia @McFaul reportedly called member of human rights delegation, asked her to relay to Snowden that he isn’t a whistleblower.

— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) July 12, 2013

I’ve asked McFaul and Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, the only woman among the human rights representatives at the meeting, if this is true.

Updated at 5.03pm BST

4.00pm BST

WikiLeaks has posted a long statement by Edward Snowden, dated today at 5pm Moscow time. Here it is in full:

Hello. My name is Ed Snowden. A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates.

It is also a serious violation of the law. The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law.

I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”

Accordingly, 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.

Since that time, the government and intelligence services of the United States of America have attempted to make an example of me, a warning to all others who might speak out as I have. I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression. The United States Government has placed me on no-fly lists. It demanded Hong Kong return me outside of the framework of its laws, in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement – the Law of Nations. It has threatened with sanctions countries who would stand up for my human rights and the UN asylum system. It has even taken the unprecedented step of ordering military allies to ground a Latin American president’s plane in search for a political refugee. These dangerous escalations represent a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America, but to the basic rights shared by every person, every nation, to live free from persecution, and to seek and enjoy asylum.

Yet even in the face of this historically disproportionate aggression, countries around the world have offered support and asylum. These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.

I announce today my formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum I have been extended and all others that may be offered in the future. With, for example, the grant of asylum provided by Venezuela’s President Maduro, my asylee status is now formal, and no state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum. As we have seen, however, some governments in Western European 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 with our shared rights.

This willingness by powerful states to act extra-legally represents a threat to all of us, and must not be allowed to succeed. Accordingly, I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably.

If you have any questions, I will answer what I can.

Thank you.

Updated at 4.03pm BST

3.43pm BST

Summary

Here is a summary of what has happened so far today.

• Edward Snowden is claiming asylum in Russia, with a view to staying there temporarily before claiming asylum in a Latin American country. He said he had received offers from Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. Washington, which seeks to arrest Snowden on charges of espionage, has revoked Snowden’s passport and pressed nations not to take him in or help him travel.

• The Kremlin said earlier this month that Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia but withdrawn his claim after Vladimir Putin said he would be welcome only if he stopped “his work aimed at bringing harm” to the United States – but today Snowden said this was not an issue: “No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the US … I want the US to succeed.” But in response Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov repeated Putin’s demand and said he was unaware of a formal application from Snowden.

• The former US intelligence agency contractor – whose leaks to the Guardian about US surveillance have caused controversy the world over – was speaking at a meeting he had called with representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman, a Russian MP, and a Russian attorney. Media were not allowed into the meeting, but the participants gave numerous interviews detailing what he had said afterwards. WikiLeaks, which has been helping Snowden since he left Hong Kong last month, said they would issue a statement from the whistleblower later today.

• Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, who was at the meeting, sent the Guardian what was the first photograph the world had seen of Snowden since he revealed himself in a Guardian video last month.Snowden looked much the same as he did in his Guardian interviews from Hong Kong, dressed in a similar open-neck shirt, with stubble and glasses, although his hair was a little longer. Lokshina said that HRW felt that Snowden had a “prima facie case” for asylum because “his concerns about possible ill-treatment if in custody in the United States are legitimate”.

Edward Snowden along with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks (left) at a press conference in Sheremetyevo
Edward Snowden along with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks (left) at a meeting with human rights groups in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow today. Photograph: Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch

• Snowden told the meeting he felt safe at the airport and his living conditions were good, but he knew he could not stay there for ever. He said he was recognised as an asylum seeker by the UN High Commission on Refugees – but the US, he said, did not recognise this, as the Morales plane affair showed. He said he wanted international organisations to petition the US and EU not to interfere with his asylum claim. In a letter inviting the human rights groups to today’s meeting, Snowden said the US was conducting an “unlawful campaign … to deny my right to seek and enjoy … asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

• Meanwhile, in the latest in its series of scoops based on documents provided by Snowden, the Guardian this morning reported that Microsoft had collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption.

Updated at 3.51pm BST

3.29pm BST

Here is another photo of Snowden taken by Tanya Lokshina.

RT @KooyJan@sbeaugeAFP Here you go, Copyright Tanya Lokshina, Human Rights Watchpic.twitter.com/1apFV8Sb8W #Snowden

— PaulTOwen (@PaulTOwen) July 12, 2013

3.18pm BST

The Wall Street Journal was speaking to Tanya Lokshina at the airport earlier.

The WSJ’s reporter asked her what Snowden’s chances of gaining asylum were. She said:

Human Rights Watch made a statement several days ago saying that he does have a prima facie case and that indeed his concerns about possible ill-treatment if in custody in the United States are legitimate. Therefore any country, including Russia now that he’s making a formal claim, should consider that claim justified.

3.14pm BST

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said he is unaware of a formal asylum request from Snowden, according to Reuters. As mentioned earlier, he reiterated Putin’s demand that Snowden stop harming the US before he is granted asylum.

3.07pm BST

Reuters is reporting that Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has reiterated that Snowden must refrain from harming the US if he wants asylum in Russia.

3.07pm BST

AP reports the following people were at the meeting: Vyacheslav Nikonov, the Russian MP, Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International Russia, Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman, and attorney Genri Reznik.

 

.17pm BST

Snowden is arguing that the US is conducting an “unlawful campaign … to deny my right to seek and enjoy … asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” by “threatening” countries around the world, particularly in Latin America.

The New York Times reports today that the US is putting pressure on countries across Latin America to try to ensure they do not take Snowden in.

“There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point,” a senior State Department official focusing on the matter said recently, adding that helping Mr. Snowden “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.”

“If someone thinks things would go away, it won’t be the case,” the official said.

But the NYT says Washington is finding that “its leverage in Latin America is limited just when it needs it most, a reflection of how a region that was once a broad zone of American power has become increasingly confident in its ability to act independently”.

Updated at 1.24pm BST

12.14pm BST

Edward Snowden is to meet representatives from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Transparency International at the airport in Moscow where he is holed up to discuss his next steps forward.

In an email published by Human Rights Watch, the former intelligence agency contractor – whose revelations to the Guardian about US surveillance have caused controversy around the world – also suggests he will make a “brief statement” to the groups. Reuters said Snowden had emailed them separately to say that the meeting would be closed to the press but that the whistleblower would speak to the media later.

The meeting is due to take place at 5pm Moscow time (2pm in London/9am in New York) in Sheremetyevo airport and we’ll be publishing as many details as we can live here.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty said they had received an email from Snowden setting out how he felt the US government was conducting an “unlawful campaign … to deny my right to seek and enjoy … asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

Tonya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch posted the email in full on Facebook. In the email he also thanks all the countries that have offered him support and asylum and offers to visit each one. Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered him asylum. Venezuela’s foreign minister said yesterday the country had not yet received a reply to its offer. It is still unclear whether he would be able to leave the airport to take up any of these offers. The Kremlin said the whistleblower withdrew a request for asylum in Russia after Vladimir Putin said he would be welcome only if he stopped “his work aimed at bringing harm” to the United States – ”as strange as that sounds coming from my mouth.”

Here is the email in full:

I have been extremely fortunate to enjoy and accept many offers of support and asylum from brave countries around the world. These nations have my gratitude, and I hope to travel to each of them to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. Government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent: never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign President’s plane to effect a search for a political refugee [a reference to the plane of Bolivia’s Evo Morales]. This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution.

I invite the Human Rights organizations and other respected individuals addressed to join me on 12 July at 5:00PM at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation. Your cooperation and support will be greatly appreciated in this matter.

Sincerely,

Edward Joseph Snowden

MEETING DETAILS: Please meet at 4.30pm at Sheremetyevo airport in Terminal F, in the centre of the arrival hall. Someone from airport staff will be waiting there to receive you with a sign labelled “G9”. Please bring a copy of this invite and ID to show that you work for your organization as security will likely be tight at this meeting. A maximum of three people are able to attend from each organization. For any questions please contact the airport administration on +8 916-816-4335.

Lokshino said she would be attending the meeting. “I’m not sure this is for real, but compelled to give it a try,” she wrote on Facebook. “Wouldn’t want to create an impression that HRW is not interested in what Snowden has to say.”

Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International Russia, said: “Yes, I have received a brief email. It said that he would like to meet with a representative of a human rights organisation – there was not much information there. I’m planning to go.”

Reuters reported that Transparency International was a third recipient of the email.

In the latest in its series of scoops based on documents provided by Snowden, the Guardian this morning reports that  Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption.

Updated at 12.15pm BST

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/12/edward-snowden-to-meet-amnesty-and-human-rights-watch-at-moscow-airport-live-coverag
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