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article imageOp-Ed: Edward Snowden seeks temporary asylum in Russia

By Ken Hanly     Jul 12, 2013 in Politics
Moscow - Edward Snowden announced he was seeking temporary asylum in Russia until such time as he could legally travel to a country that has offered him asylum.
Snowden has been in the transit zone of a Moscow airport ever since June 23 when the president of Ecuador said that papers that authorized his travel to Ecuador were invalid. Snowden said that he was submitting a request that he be allowed to stay in Russia until the western states that were blocking his travel acceded to law and allowed him to travel legally to a country that offered him asylum.
There is little sign that the US and other countries are letting up in their attempts to have Snowden extradited to the US to face espionage charges. The US has been putting pressure on Russia to extradite him and warning that failure to do so could damage relations between the two countries. Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, himself a former Soviet KGB officer for 16 years is not likely too sympathetic to whistle blowers. He has made it a condition of granting asylum that Snowden cease releasing classified data on US surveillance.
According to an article in the Daily Beast, the US government has threatened retaliation against Hong Kong, China, and Russia for not turning Snowden over to them. While visiting India Secretary of State John Kerry said that without question there there would be consequences for China and Russia for not granting US requests to turn over Snowden. Kerry said that the US is now focusing on Russia.
Richard Falk considers the US responses hypocritical and unwarranted. He points out that the US harbors a fugitive, Luis Carriles, who is wanted for a number of crimes including the downing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people but still refuses to extradite him to face justice. Falk argues that Snowden's crime was political and as such does not require extradition even if there were a treaty between two countries.
The US is showing itself more and more arrogant and demanding and is causing itself more international bad relations than anything that other countries have done. By requesting several countries to deny access to airspace to the plane of the Bolivian president Evo Morales the US managed to damage relations with many Latin American countries extensively and has caused several in reaction to offer Snowden asylum. France even apologized for its part in the affair.
Even the US public, which often reacts positively to government moves due to fear of terrorism and a desire for security, does not agree that Snowden is a traitor. Most see him as a genuine whistle blower. Bloomberg reports that a survey by Hamden shows that 55% of those surveyed thought that Snowden was a whistle blower while 34% thought he was a traitor. This is an impressive result considering there has been a constant stream of propaganda purporting to show how useful the spying has been in preventing terrorist attacks.
Snowden met with a number of human rights groups including Amnesty International in the transit area of a Moscow airport transit area where he has been for weeks. At the meeting he discussed what he called the illegal and threatening behavior of the US designed to ensure he was not granted amnesty. He sent a letter to Human Rights Watch, which can be found here. The US State Department said the meeting should not have taken place. According to White House spokesperson Jen Psaki: "We are disappointed that Russian officials and agencies facilitated this meeting today by allowing these activists and representatives into the Moscow airport's transit zone to meet with Mr Snowden despite the government's declaration of Russia's neutrality with respect to Mr Snowden."
Snowden has said that he is willing to stop sharing information if he is given temporary asylum in Russia. Putin now faces the choice of giving in to the US or risking further deterioration in relationships between the two countries that are already somewhat rocky because of differences in policies on Syria. However, giving Snowden temporary asylum might be a political plus domestically. pleasing Russian nationalists and increasing his popularity by showing that Russia is still a world power that is quite capable of rejecting demands of the United States.
Even the UN rights chief Navi Pillay said that there is a need to protect whistle blowers from within intelligence agencies who disclose human rights violations:"Snowden's case has shown the need to protect persons disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights, as well as the importance of ensuring respect for the right to privacy".
Leaders from Mercosur a bloc of Latin America are meeting in Montevideo Uruguay. They are expected to send a strong message to the US over spying in the region and to defend the right of countries to offer asylum to Snowden. The US nevertheless seems intent to shoot the messengers rather than paying the least bit of attention to the message.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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