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Despite US Pressure, European Parliament Clears Path for Snowden Asylum

In the face of global pressure from the United States, the European Parliament passed a resolution which may pave the way for a European Union country to grant asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

By a vote of 285 to 281, members of Parliament called on EU member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender.”

Snowden described the development as a “game-changer” and added, “This is not a blow against the U.S. government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward.”

Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who has represented Snowden, reacted, “It is very significant that the EU Parliament passed the resolution in support of asylum for Edward Snowden.”

“It would be wonderful for Western European countries to offer Snowden asylum. The impediments, of course, are that a number of countries require potential asylees to request asylum from inside the country of refuge, EU countries have denied him access to their air space, and the EU resolution is non-binding,” Radack added.

She continued, “Nevertheless, this is a very encouraging development, both symbolically and substantively.”

The Parliament also approved a resolution by 342 to 274 votes, which assessed the inaction by the European Commission and other EU institutions and member states to recommendations Parliament made to respond to evidence of mass surveillance of EU citizens.

On September 30, 2013, Radack and NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Kirk Wiebe testified before the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs Committee.  A statement from Snowden was read into the record by Radack.

“The surveillance of whole populations rather than individuals threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time,” Snowden declared. “When I began my work, it was with the sole intention of making possible the debate we see occurring here in this body and in many other bodies around the world.”

Radack reflected, “It is extremely gratifying that two years later, the European Parliament passed its resolution on mass surveillance, which contains a call on EU member states to protect Edward Snowden.”

As the Washington Post reported in 2013, “State Department and CIA officials pressured countries seen as potential destinations to turn Snowden away,” reducing options to countries the U.S. has treated adversarially.

One of those countries, Bolivia, actually saw the U.S. scramble to force down a plane with their president, Evo Morales, on board. He was returning from Moscow, where he had insinuated Bolivia would support asylum. U.S. officials had no specific information to suggest Snowden would be on the plane but still enlisted “France, Spain, Italy and Portugal to block the Bolivian president’s flight home.”

As German government officials were seriously considering granting asylum to Snowden, the U.S. threatened to “cut off” Germany from intelligence on potential terrorism threats against the country.

Scandinavian countries were sent a document from the U.S., which pressured the country to arrest and extradite Snowden if he traveled to the country. Similar messages were sent to European and Latin American countries.

Coercing countries not to grant someone asylum is an affront to this process enshrined in international human rights law.

Although the Parliament’s resolution is non-binding, it symbolically affirms Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."