In a surprise meeting Friday at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, NSA leaker Edward Snowden told human rights groups that he needed their help. He planned to accept an asylum offer in Latin America, but he couldn't get there safely. Until he could, he is seeking asylum in Russia.
[I]n recent weeks 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. The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent …
I invite the Human Rights organizations and other respected individuals addressed to join me on 12 July at 5:00PM at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation.
Braving a solid wall of reporters, the attendees arrived at the airport and were escorted into a private area in the facility's transit area — the secure section to which Snowden has apparently been restricted since arriving in Russia last month. According to the AP, the attendees were: Vyacheslav Nikonov, the Russian MP; Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International Russia; Vladimir Lukin, Russia's presidential human rights ombudsman; attorney Genri Reznik; and Lokshina.
Snowden told the attendees that he'd received asylum offers from five countries: Venezuela, Russia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. But he worried that travel to those countries was dangerous or impossible, in light of the incident with Bolivia's president. As a result, Snowden will seek asylum in Russia until he could get to Latin America.
Update, 11:15 a.m.: Russia's Life News got a snippet of video from the meeting, surreptitiously recorded by a participant (somewhat ironically). A preview:
Snowden, speaking in a loud voice, is interrupted by the airport's public announcement system. The audience laughs — as does Snowden. "I've heard this many times in the last six weeks."
Update, Saturday: And now there's audio, too.
Wikileaks later released his full statement. "My name is Ed Snowden," it begins. "A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates." He went on to explain his desired outcome.
These nations … have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.
I announce today my formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum I have been extended and all others that may be offered in the future. With, for example, the grant of asylum provided by Venezuela’s President Maduro, my asylee status is now formal, and no state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum.
Snowden's plan could be little tricky, given Russia's previously stated conditions for his asylum bid in that country. In order to remain, Russian president Vladimir Putin stated, Snowden would need to stop releasing information damaging to the United States — a condition reiterated today. Lokshina, interviewed by a horde of reporters after the meeting ended, stated that, "There is nothing to stop, because he is doing no damage." Snowden made that case, too.
Other than that, Lokshina indicated, Snowden appeared well. The meeting was held in the transit area of Terminal F, the large building in the center of the image at the bottom of the article. It appears that Snowden has been staying in a small hotel in the transit area (in the adjacent terminal E) since his arrival in the country in June. Lokshina said that his "conditions are just fine;" Nikonov, the member of the Russian Parliament, praised Snowden's haircut.
Update, 4:32 p.m.: The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza reports that Lokshina got a call from a representative of the State Department. His view differed from Snowden's.
She confirmed that US Embassy wanted her to relay to Snowden that US position is Snowden is a lawbreaker, not a human rights case.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) July 12, 2013
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