Snowden would not be extradited during asylum process

Former US intelligence analyst could apply for asylum if arrested at Shannon airport

The Government has received a request from the US to arrest NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden if he arrives in the State. Photograph:  Reuters

The Government has received a request from the US to arrest NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden if he arrives in the State. Photograph: Reuters


Former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden would likely be protected from extradition to the US if he were granted refugee status in Ireland. And any asylum application he might make would have to be processed before he could be extradited, legal experts have said.

The Government received a request from the US authorities to arrest Mr Snowden earlier this week should his flight land at Shannon airport for refuelling. The warrant has been issued as a pre-emptive strike against any effort by Mr Snowden to evade the US authorities by flying from Moscow to Havana on a commercial flight.

He is wanted for questioning in the US following his release of information outlining how the US government was engaged in the wholesale interception of email and telephone messages.

Barrister Siobhán Stack said it would be open to Mr Snowden to apply for refugee status if he were arrested by gardaí in Shannon and he would be entitled to remain in the State while that application was examined. She said any extradition application would likely be halted pending the asylum application because of human rights obligations.

The obligations include the principal of non-refoulement, which originates from article 33 of the Geneva Convention.

“It means no one can be turned back at the border or expelled if they are at risk for any of the reasons that would render them a refugee,” she said.

The broad grounds on which an application for refugee status could be made might be on the basis that any prosecution would be persecution for a political opinion and not legitimate prosecution for a criminal offence. “Until that claim is examined it would probably be a breach of non-refoulement to return that person or refuse them entry.”

The area was complex, she said, and though processing times for applications had “speeded up here quite remarkably”, an individual would be entitled to litigate and the case could go as far as Europe, causing further delays.

If that process also failed, an applicant could seek subsidiary protection. Subsidiary protection prohibits the return of an individual if he or she is facing the death penalty or execution.

Ms Stack also said it could be “strongly arguable” that Mr Snowden could not be returned to the US if he was successful in his asylum application.

Remy Farrell SC said a grant of asylum would be “an immediate bar to extradition”. “If he were granted asylum then he couldn’t be extradited,” he said.

Mr Farrell said he did not believe a situation where someone has been resisting extradition and been in the process of seeking asylum at the same time had occurred in Ireland before, but he believed if it did the asylum application would have to be considered first.

He also said there was an agreement between Ireland and the US that if an individual was accused of an offence that attracted the death penalty, an undertaking could be given by the US that this would not be applied if the Irish courts agreed to extradite him or her.

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