Edward Snowden on shortlist for EU human rights award

Fugitive whistleblower one of three candidates for Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

Edward Snowdon is wanted for leaking details of government surveillance programes. Photograph: Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/Courtesy of The Guardian

Edward Snowdon is wanted for leaking details of government surveillance programes. Photograph: Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/Courtesy of The Guardian


Fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden has made the short-list for a prestigious European Union human rights prize.

Mr Snowden, who is under guard in Russia, was announced as one of three candidates for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, following a vote by the European Parliament yesterday. Mr Snowden was nominated by the Greens.

Past recipients of the €50,000 award include some of the world’s best-known political figures such as Kofi Annan and Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to the European Parliament, the award is intended to honour “exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression”.

Surveillance programmes

The nomination of Mr Snowden, who is wanted by the US government for leaking details of government surveillance programmes, threatens to reignite EU-US tension over the issue of data protection and surveillance.

Brussels reacted furiously to revelations in July that the US intelligence agency had bugged European institution offices in Europe and the US. The issue could overshadow nascent transatlantic trade talks which are due to recommence in Brussels next Monday.

A statement by Mr Snowden was read out in a separate committee hearing in the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday. Thanking the parliament for “taking up the challenge of mass surveillance”, Mr Snowden said the surveillance of whole populations rather than individuals threatens to be “the greatest human rights challenge of our time”.

“A culture of secrecy has denied our societies the opportunity to determine the appropriate balance between the human right of privacy and governmental interest in investigation,” the statement said.

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who survived a Taliban assassination attempt, and Belarusian political prisoners Ales Byalyatski, Eduard Lobau, and Mikola Statkevich are the other candidates for the prize.

Ms Yousafzai, who has been backed by most of the main political groupings in the parliament, including the European People’s Party, Socialists and Democrats) and the liberal grouping ALDE, is the favourite to win the award, which will be announced next week.

Sakharov prize

Each political grouping in the European Parliament is permitted to nominate a candidate for the Sakharov prize, which is then voted on by the Foreign Affairs and Development Committee. Seven nominations were originally put forward for consideration last month.

The Sakharov price was established in 1988 in memory of the 1975 recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, Andrei Sakharov. A nuclear physicist, Mr Sakharov sought to highlight the dangers of the nuclear arms race, and was widely regarded in the Soviet Union as a political dissident.

In a statement following yesterday’s vote, the Green Party said Mr Snowden’s inclusion was an “official recognition by the European Parliament of the enormous service he has done for human rights globally and for European citizens”.