Minister defers to UDI on Snowden

Bookmark and Share

Norwegian immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) has once again been handed the job of determining whether exiled American Edward Snowden can enter the country this fall, to accept a prize honouring him for advancing freedom of expression. Public pressure is growing for Snowden to be allowed to visit Norway, without being arrested and extradited back to the US where he’s charged with treason.

Norway's state immigration agency UDI needs help as it continues to deal with the influx of 31,000 asylum seekers this year. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet

Norway’s state immigration agency UDI has been handed the job of determining whether Edward Snowden can come to Norway. If so, then it’s up to state prosecutors whether he should be handed over to American authorities keen to put him on trial for treason. PHOTO: Justis- og beredskapsdepartementet

Snowden is alternately viewed as either a patriot who blew the whistle on illegal suveillance by the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) or a traitor who fled the US with stolen documentation of the surveillance. He clearly has a lot of support in Norway, where he recently won his second prize from organizations dedicated to freedom of expression, the latest being Norsk PEN.

Norwegian lawyers, professors, authors and at least some politicians have been coming forward in recent days to express their support for Snowden. Among them is the rector of the University of Oslo, Ole Petter Ottersen, who told newspaper Dagsavisen that Snowden has “done a fantastic and brave job in revealing illegal surveillance. It’s great that PEN has landed on him as its prizewinner, and I hope Snowden will have the opportunity to come to Norway to accept the prize.”

Ottersen added that he hopes Norway “can avoid a repetition of what happened in 1936, when the man whose name is attached to PEN’s prize (Carl von Ossietzky) was prevented from traveling to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Ossietzky was a radical pacifist who had revealed Nazi Germany’s rearmament in violation of the Treaty of Versailles that prevented such a military build-up after World War I. Hitler was highly offended and furious over the prize to Ossietzky and Norway’s King Haakon VII at the time stayed away from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, apparently for fear of further offending the ruler of Germany, which was still an ally. Germany invaded Norway just a few years later, sending the king and the rest of the royal family into exile.

‘Give Snowden asylum’
There are parallels between the Ossietzky case and Snowden’s, and Norwegian law professor Hans Petter Graver also thinks Snowden should be allowed to receive his prize and be protected by Norwegian authorities. “Snowden has contributing to making known some of the most important aspects of personal privacy and technological development,” Graver told Dagsavisen. “People have seen how much data can be spread but also how American authorities have exploited that.”

Graver said that Norwegian authorities “should consider giving him (Snowden) asylum if the US can’t guarantee that he won’t be subject to reprisal.” According to Norwegian principles, Graver said, whistleblowers should be protected.”

Authors Thorvald Steen and Anne Holt, a former justice minister, have also come out in favour of Snowden while Bård Vegar Solhjell of the Socialist Left party (SV) continues to be the only Member of Parliament welcoming Snowden and calling for his protection to be ensured.

Death penalty can ‘forbid’ extradition
Thorbjørn Jagland, a former Labour Party prime minister who’s now secretary general of the Council of Europe, was reluctant to comment on the Snowden case during a visit to Oslo last week but suddenly added that “it is absolutely forbidden to extradite anyone to a country where they might face the death penalty.” The US still has a death penalty in many states, not unlike Iraq, where Norway has been unable to deport the Islamist and terror suspect Mullah Krekar because of it. “I only remind people about that,” Jagland said at a meeting of foreign correspondents in Oslo, adding that the prohibition against extradition to a country with the death penalty is “firm.”

While Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen is keen to allow more surveillance in Norway, he won’t take up the case of the young American who exposed widespread surveillance in the US. Anundsen claimed just before the weekend that his “political leadership” of the justice ministry can’t get involved in individual cases, referring further questions to immigration agency UDI. It was also called upon last year when Snowden won the Bjørnson Prize, and then there were said to be problems with Snowden’s lack of travel documents (since the US revoked his passport) and no assurances of his protection. He had to accept his prize via video link from Moscow, where he’s been in exile.

Dagsavisen editorialized that the Norwegian government now has an opportunity to correct its “mistake” from last year and make it possible for Snowden to come to Oslo. Norsk PEN officials said they will do “all they can” for that to happen, without going into detail.

‘Hindrances’
“There are certain hindrances, for example that Snowden lacks valid travel documents,” Hege Newth Nouri, secretary general of Nork PEN. “Snowden is one of the world’s most wanted men, so his security must be the top priority. We’re optimistic.” Anundsen said it would be up to Norwegian prosecutors to determine whether Snowden, if allowed to enter Norway, should be arrested and turned over to the American authorities.

UDI, meanwhile, remains silent on how it will handle the politically sensitive case. It usually takes its cue from Norwegian politicians who generally champion freedom of expression and human rights. Several of them including the prime minister were targets themselves of the massive US surveillance that Snowden exposed. In this case, though, they’d face offending Norway’s most important ally and violating an extradition treaty with the US as well. UDI itself claims it has not yet received any application for entry by Snowden, so couldn’t comment further.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund