WikiLeaks cheers Snowden asylum in Russia; rights groups dubious

WikiLeaks advisor Sarah Harrison meets with Edward Snowden at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow. The anti-secrecy group hailed its victory in helping Snowden obtain asylum in Russia, but human rights groups warn the American fugitive has landed in a country intolerant of free speech and dissent.
(Tanya Lokshina / Associated Press)

Edward Snowden and the WikiLeaks organization that helped him evade extradition to the United States to face espionage charges praised Russia for having “done the right thing” Thursday in granting temporary asylum to the former National Security Agency contractor.

In a statement posted on its website, WikiLeaks denounced the Obama administration for its “bellicose response” to the American fugitive’s search for refuge from U.S. prosecution for disclosing top-secret NSA data surveillance operations.

“Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning,” Snowden is quoted as saying after finally escaping more than a month of diplomatic limbo at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. “I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations.”

Snowden’s father, Lon, also expressed his gratitude to Russian President Vladimir Putin for protecting his son from the legal consequences of having violated his NSA confidentiality obligations.

In an interview broadcast Wednesday by Rossiya-24 television, the elder Snowden praised Putin and his government for having “the strength and resolve and convictions to protect my son.” Lon Snowden was in the process of arranging a visit to Moscow to see his son, the fugitive’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told journalists after his client left the airport for an undisclosed location.


“Despite the ongoing pressure from the United States, which has been trying to interfere with this sovereign [asylum] process in violation of the U.N. Protocol on the Rights of Refugees, Russia has done the right thing and granted Mr. Snowden temporary asylum,” the unsigned WikiLeaks statement declared.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, from his own tentative refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, pronounced Snowden’s grant of asylum in Russia a triumph in the global battle to protect those who expose what they consider illegal government behavior.

“This is another victory in the fight against Obama’s war on whistle-blowers. This battle has been won, but the war continues,” Assange said. “The United States can no longer continue the surveillance of world citizens and its digital colonization of sovereign nations.”

Russian human rights advocates were quick to point out, though, that Snowden has taken shelter in a country with a deplorable track record in defense of free speech and tolerance of dissent.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the human rights advocates of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said it was good that Snowden had finally escaped his protracted ordeal in the transit area of the capital’s main airport but noted that he now finds himself in a country with little regard for the ideals of freedom he professes.

“Having fought for the freedom and rights, Snowden has ended up in a country that cracks down on them,” Alexeyeva was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Human Rights Watch analysts also took note of the irony of the Kremlin coming to the defense of a self-styled champion of privacy and free speech rights.

“He cannot but be aware of the unprecedented crackdown on human rights that the government has unleashed in the past 15 months,” Rachel Denber, the rights group’s expert on Russia and other former Soviet states told the Associated Press by email.

Another Human Rights Watch commentator, Deputy Executive Director Carroll Bogert, advised Snowden in a tongue-in-cheek post on CNN’s news blog that he get familiar with certain expressions in the Russian language, such as “khuliganstvo” -- hooliganism, which might cover anything from getting in a fistfight to performance of a protest song denouncing Putin.

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Twitter: @cjwilliamslat