Today, Thursday 1st August at 15:50 MSK, Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia. He left Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow with WikiLeaks staffer and legal advisor Sarah Harrison who has accompanied him during his 39 day stay in the transit zone and continues to do so. Ms Harrison has remained with Mr Snowden at all times to protect his safety and security, incuding during his exit from Hong Kong. They departed from the airport together in a taxi and are headed to a secure, confidential place.
On 16th July Mr Snowden made a request for temporary asylum to Russia. Despite the ongoing pressure from the United States, which has been trying to interfere with this sovereign process in violation of the UN Protocol on the Rights of Refugees, Russia has done the right thing and granted Mr Snowden temporary asylum. The certificate of temporary asylum by the Russian Federation lasts for one year and affords Mr Snowden the right to live in and travel around Russia, where he can now plan his next steps in safety. On receiving his asylum certificate Mr Snowden said: “Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning. I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations.”
WikiLeaks, whilst being a publishing organisation, also fights for the rights and protections of journalistic sources, and so has taken a leading role in assisting Mr Snowden secure his safety. Mr Snowden, an American citizen, was forced to flee his country to enable him to safely reveal to the public the crimes of his government. President Barack Obama while elected on a platform promising to protect whistleblowers, has now prosecuted more national security whistleblowers than all other presidents in United States history combined. This bellicose response from the US administration makes it clear that Snowden could not receive a fair trial. Assange said “This is another victory in the fight against Obama’s war on whistleblowers. This battle has been won, but the war continues. The United States can no longer continue the surveillance of world citizens and its digital colonization of sovereign nations. The public will no longer stand for it. Whistleblowers will continue to appear until the government abides by its own laws and rhetoric.”
WikiLeaks commends Russia for accepting Snowden’s request and supporting him when many countries felt so compromised by US threats that they could not. Throughout Snowden’s stay in the airport it has been heartening to see citizens of the United States, of Russia and the world supporting Mr Snowden. WikiLeaks would also like to extend their gratitude to the airport staff who have assisted in making the extended stay of Mr Snowden and Ms Harrison as comfortable and secure as possible, despite the difficult conditions.
Mr Snowden and Ms Harrison have been staying in the airport for almost six weeks, having landed on an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong on the 23rd June. They had been booked on a connecting flight the following day. Mr Snowden intended to request asylum in Latin America. However, after Mr Snowden’s departure was made public, the United States government canceled his passport, which rendered onward travel impossible.
From within the transit zone of the airport, Mr Snowden and Ms Harrison spent a number of weeks prior to his Russian application assessing the options available to him to ensure his future safety. Without a passport and no immediate offers of the necessary safe passage, travel was impossible. Over twenty asylum requests to various countries were made to try to secure Mr Snowden’s passage. Throughout this period the United States took irregular and disproportionate actions to block Mr Snowden’s right to seek asylum: downing the plane of the President of Bolivia and making direct political and economic threats againt nations Mr Snowden requested assistance from. This is in violation of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2312 (1967), which states that:
“the grant of asylum. . . is a peaceful and humanitarian act and… as such, it cannot be regarded as unfriendly by any other State.”
Despite these actions, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua stood strong and granted Mr Snowden asylum. At a meeting with lawyers and human rights organisations on the 12th of July, Mr Snowden announced that he accepted Venezuela’s asylum offer, although ultimately US interference has, at least for the time being, prevented its practical acceptance.
The Obama administration has demonstrated in its treatment of Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake, James Risen, James Rosen and others that the United States is no longer a safe place for whistleblowers and national security journalists. WikiLeaks urges that the US government amends its ways, reverse this trend and re-establish its moral authority. We will continue to defend Mr Snowden and urge the United States government to respect its constitution and international law.