According to reports yesterday, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been in touch with representatives of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, with a view to helping Snowden obtain political asylum in Iceland.
Snowden has been in hiding in Hong Kong since he revealed the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance operations, known as the PRISM program, to the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Assange is currently taking refuge, himself claiming political asylum, at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in a bid to escape a UK court order which ordered Assange’s extradition to Sweden to face charges alleging sexual assault. Assange fears that if he obeys the UK court order, it will make it easier for US authorities to extradite him to the United States to face charges associated with his Wikileaks website. Wikileaks is alleged to have published hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents passed to it by U.S Army Private Bradley Manning. Manning is currently facing a court martial in the United States in connection with the Wikileaks revelations.
Without saying he has spoken directly to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been on the run and in hiding since May 20 in Hong Kong, Assange said he was “in touch with Mr. Snowden’s team of legal representatives.” Assange continued, "We are in the process of negotiating his asylum in Iceland," reports 20 Minutes.
Assange was speaking on a conference call with reporters to mark the first anniversary of his taking refuge in the Ecuador’s Embassy in London. When asked if former NSA consultant Snowden could go to Iceland safely, Assange said that "everyone involved is looking at these problems. Our teams in Iceland have been in contact with [Snowden’s representatives] and the Icelandic government."
According to NBC News, Assange posed the question, “Will Edward Snowden be in the same position that Bradley Manning is in, ... and is the United States the type of country from which journalists must seek asylum in relation to their work?"
Assange’s revelation that Wikileaks had brokered contact between Snowden’s legal team and the Icelandic government appeared to be backed up by a report in the Icelandic language daily Fréttablaðið. On June 18, Fréttablaðið carried an article by Kristinn Hrafnsson, a journalist, said to be a spokesman for Wikileaks. Hrafnsson writes that on June 12, he conveyed a message to the Icelandic government that Edward Snowden was seeking political asylum in Iceland. Hrafnsson goes on to claim that the Icelandic authorities even helped Snowden with his application and explored the benefits of his obtaining Icelandic citizenship. But Hrafnsson says that he has so far been unsuccessful in his attempts to hold meetings with Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmund David Gunnlaugsson and Interior Minister Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir on the possibility of Iceland granting political asylum to Edward Snowden.
Later reports indicated that the Icelandic authorities may be distancing themselves from any possible application from Edward Snowden for asylum in Iceland. According to Icelandic website Icenews, Iceland’s Ambassador to China, Kristin Arnadottir, said that Snowden could only be granted asylum by Iceland if he was actually in the country. The Ambassador added that Iceland’s Ministry of the Interior deals with issues such as these raised in the Snowden case and handles all asylum applications.
In a previous interview carried by The Guardian, when Snowden was asked if he had a plan in place for his future, Snowden had hinted that Iceland might be where he would eventually land up. In response, Snowden said, "The only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me … My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over internet freedom. I have no idea what my future is going to be.”