Snowden seeks temporary asylum in Russia

Former US contractor hits out at ‘unlawful campaign by officials in the US Government’

Former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is seeking temporary asylum in Russia and plans to go to Latin America eventually, it was reported this afternoon.

Wikileaks Press posted the news on Twitter, as Mr Snowden met human rights activists at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, and cited a representative of Human Rights Watch who attended the meeting.

Separately, a Russian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Mr Snowden would apply for asylum in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Mr Snowden must not harm US interests or Russian-American relations if he wants asylum in Russia, repeating conditions Mr Putin set out earlier.

The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he was unaware of a formal request for asylum from Mr Snowden.

Mr Snowden met rights groups to discuss what he called threatening and illegal behaviour by the United States to prevent him gaining asylum.

He has been stranded in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport ever since, unable to take up asylum offers from third countries.

Mr Snowden (30) has not been seen in public since his arrival, but Russian officials say he had been in the airport's transit zone. President Vladimir Putin has shown impatience with the extended stay, but Mr Snowden has no clear route to a safe haven.

Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum, but he has not revealed his plans. Washington, which seeks to arrest Mr Snowden on charges of espionage in divulging details of secret US surveillance programmes, has revoked Mr Snowden's passport and pressed nations not to take him in or help him travel.

An emailed letter, said to be from Mr Snowden to the Human Rights Watch group, was posted on Facebook by Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of the Moscow office of New York-based group.

It read: "In recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the US 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.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirmed they had received the invitation to a meeting with Mr Snowden, sent yesterday afternoon.

The Kremlin said previously Mr Snowden had withdrawn a request for asylum in Russia earlier this month after Mr Putin said Russia would not take him in unless he stopped activities aimed at “harming our American partners”.

Russia may want him out before it hosts finance ministers from the G20, which includes the United States, next week.

Mr Putin’s spokesman said today that Mr Snowden had not asked to meet anyone from the presidential administration and that Mr Putin was not involved in deciding Mr Snowden’s fate.

“We don’t know anything. It’s not an issue that’s on the president’s agenda,” said Dmitry Peskov.

Snowden’s options for getting to Latin America or anywhere else are limited.

There are no direct commercial flights from Moscow to Venezuela, Nicaragua or Bolivia, and any flight over the United States, or those of an ally, could be fraught with risk.