Snowden seeks asylum in Russia, meets activists at airport

June 3, 2014

MOSCOW — Fugitive U.S. ex-security contractor Edward Snowden is seeking to stay in Russia while routes to Latin America are blocked, according to activists who met him in a Moscow airport.

“Snowden plans to ask for asylum,” Olga Kostina, the head of the Soprotivlenie human-rights movement, said Friday by text message during the meeting. He wants temporary refuge, Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Moscow, said on her Facebook page, alongside a photograph of Snowden talking with the group.

Snowden, who exposed classified U.S. programs that collect telephone and Internet data, has been in Sheremetyevo airport’s transit area since June 23, seeking asylum around the world as U.S. authorities press for his return to face prosecution. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have indicated they’d be willing to take him.

“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,” Snowden wrote, according to a letter sent to the activists. “The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent.”

The United States has pressured allies to deny airspace rights for any plane carrying the fugitive. Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane was grounded in Austria and searched after flying from Russia on July 2. Morales said France, Italy, Spain and Portugal had refused to allow the plane into 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 said in his letter.

Snowden said he’s asking for asylum in Russia until he can secure safe passage to Latin America, according to a statement posted on the website of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which has been assisting him.

U.S. and European willingness to act outside the law “makes it impossible” for him to travel to the Latin American countries that have offered him asylum, he said.

With his U.S. passport revoked, Snowden can’t leave the Moscow airport transit zone without a new travel document. Snowden earlier withdrew his asylum bid to Russia after President Vladimir Putin insisted he stop harming U.S. interests, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov Friday repeated Russia’s offer to allow Snowden to stay under the same conditions. He said he wasn’t aware of a new request.

It will take about three weeks for the Russian authorities to decide whether to grant refuge to Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer and a member of the Public Chamber who attended the meeting, told Bloomberg. Snowden said he wants to visit every country that offered him asylum.

Snowden said he’s not harming U.S. interests with his activities, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a lawmaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament, told reporters at the airport.

Other than Russia, Snowden has sought refuge in 26 countries, most of which have spurned his requests. Russia and China, which both rejected U.S. requests for his extradition, have said he isn’t working with their secret services.

The U.S. pursuit of Snowden has emerged as a sticking point in international relations. While Secretary of State John Kerry last month warned China and Russia of “consequences” for their actions, the U.S. later softened its tone.

President Barack Obama told Chinese officials Thursday that he was disappointed with the treatment of U.S. demands that Hong Kong hand over Snowden, who instead was allowed to flee to Russia from the Chinese self-governing territory.

“We need to find a solution without worsening the already uneasy relations with the U.S. and without putting the young man in danger,” Soprotivlenie’s Kostina said by phone before the meeting.

© 2013, Bloomberg News

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