Whistleblower Snowden fears death penalty if returned to US

Hopes of escaping prosecution fade as asylum requests rejected

An employee distributes newspapers, with a photograph of US former  spy agency contractor Edward Snowden seen on a page, at an underground walkway in central Moscow yesterday. The headline reads: “Snowden will be nominated for Nobel”. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

An employee distributes newspapers, with a photograph of US former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden seen on a page, at an underground walkway in central Moscow yesterday. The headline reads: “Snowden will be nominated for Nobel”. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Wed, Jul 3, 2013, 08:41


US whistleblower Edward Snowden remains in legal limbo in a Moscow airport after his hopes of escaping prosecution began to fade yesterday, following unsuccessful attempts to seek political asylum in several countries including Ireland.

Mr Snowden, a former contractor for the CIA and the US National Security Agency, is on the run after disclosing details of extensive electronic surveillance programmes. The revelations include alleged American spying in Europe and on EU institutions in the US. Mr Snowden fled from Hong Kong to Moscow on June 23rd.

According to WikiLeaks, Mr Snowden has sought political asylum from 21 countries, passing his requests to Russian officials from Sheremetyevo airport, where he has been holed up without valid travel documents after the US revoked his passport.

He cancelled an earlier asylum request to Russia after president Vladimir Putin said the fugitive whistleblower would only be welcomed there if he stopped “his work aimed at bringing harm” to the US.

The Irish embassy in Moscow received the written request for asylum yesterday morning. The contents of that letter have not been made public but in a similar document Mr Snowden sent to the Polish embassy, he outlined his fears of what might happen to him if he was forced to return to the US.

“It is unlikely that I would receive a fair trial or proper treatment prior to trial, and face the possibility of life in prison or even death,” he wrote.

Mr Snowden’s options appear to be shrinking as several of the countries to which he sent asylum requests either rejected them or said they could only consider an application if it was made on their soil. Ireland was one of nearly a dozen countries that responded by saying Snowden would have to apply from within the jurisdiction.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil yesterday that if a valid application was made by Mr Snowden it would be dealt with by Irish authorities in accordance with the relevant legislation.

In a statement published by WikiLeaks, Mr Snowden accused the Obama administration of “using citizenship as weapon” and pressuring countries where he has applied for asylum. The US has warned states against granting him refuge, saying such a move would be costly.

“Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum,” Mr Snowden said. “Their purpose is to frighten not me, but those who would come after me.”

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said Mr Snowden had been rendered stateless by the revoking of his passport. “This is politically motivated persecution and therefore a case for political asylum by any standards,” he told The Irish Times. “In an ideal world Mr Snowden should be granted asylum in any European state.”

The only country that has indicated an interest in taking in the whistleblower is Venezuela. “He deserves the world’s protection,” Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said during a visit to Moscow.

Maduro told reporters yesterday that Mr Snowden was a person who had “spoken a great truth about how the capitalist elite of the United States tries to control the world, spy on its friends and enemies, spy on the whole world”.

However, asked whether he would be taking Mr Snowden home with him, Maduro replied: “What we will take away with us is multiple deals signed with Russia, particularly in the oil and gas field.”

Meanwhile, Mr Snowden’s father wrote an open letter, released yesterday, in which he praised his son for “summoning the American people to confront the growing danger of tyranny”.