Former intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden will seek temporary political asylum in Russia, according to human rights groups that met him on Friday.
The Kremlin told Snowden, who has been on the run since disclosing details of U.S. electronic surveillance programmes, that he should refrain from criticising the United States if he wants refuge in Russia.
Participants in a meeting with human rights groups at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he has been stranded in the transit area since June 23, said Snowden would seek to travel on to Latin America. “Snowden is serious about obtaining political asylum in the Russian Federation,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker who attended the meeting.
#snowden First pic of Edward Snowden in Moscow airport – taken by
tanyalokshina</a> of Human Rights Watch. <a href="http://t.co/SJWD6zLbKv">pic.twitter.com/SJWD6zLbKv</a></p>— PaulTOwen (PaulTOwen) July 12, 2013
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman repeated earlier conditions that Snowden should stop harming the interests of the United States if he wants asylum. “We need to check this information, but as far as we know, he considers himself a defender of human rights and a campaigner for democratic ideals,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters.
Nikonov said that this message had got through. “He said it would be easy for him to fulfil this requirement,” Nikonov told reporters. He added that Snowden did not consider his actions to be harmful to his country.Peskov said he was unaware of a formal request for political asylum from Snowden. Separately, a Russian official said Snowden was expected to submit one. A grainy picture of Snowden taken by one participant, with legal assistant Sarah Harrison to his right, soon surfaced on social media and news sites. He wore a grey jacket and looked in good health.
A copy of an email sent by Snowden to the NGO was posted on Facebook by an official of Human Rights Watch.
It reads in part: “In recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the US 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,” Snowden wrote.
Snowden, 30, had not been seen in public since his arrival, and Russian officials have shown increasing impatience over his stay. But it has also become clear that Snowden has no clear route to a safe haven from Moscow.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum, but he has not revealed his plans. Washington, which seeks to arrest Snowden on charges of espionage in divulging details of secret U.S. surveillance programmes, has revoked Snowden’s passport and pressed nations not to take him in or help him travel.
Bolivian President Evo Morales’s official jet had to land in Austria after departing from Moscow, amid suspicions that Snowden was on board, triggering accusations that Washington had asked European countries to bar the flight from their airspace.
“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,” Snowden wrote in his email.
“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.”