Justice Minister Grete Faremo has halted attempts to get the Norwegian government to reconsider an asylum request from Edward Snowden, the young American who has revealed massive surveillance and spying by the US government. Even though some view Snowden as a hero and political refugee, Norway clearly won’t jeopardize its relationship with the US by granting him safe haven.
Norway has been among the many countries where Snowden sought asylum, but his request was quickly turned down on a technicality by immigration agency UDI. The immigration authorities contended that asylum seekers must be physically present in Norway when they apply, while Snowden reportedly remains stuck in a transit zone at the Moscow airport after the US cancelled his passport. That meant he didn’t meet Norway’s formal application requirements.
A Norwegian organization that advocates freedom of expression, Norsk PEN, then took the initiative to bring Snowden to Norway as a sort of “transfer refugee.” UDI then responded that Snowden didn’t qualify for that status, either. Faremo now seems to have brought further attempts at aiding Snowden to an end.
In a press release issued by the justice ministry on Thursday, Faremo noted that the US wants Snowden extradited to face criminal charges regarding his release of secret documents. He thus has no right to asylum, she wrote, because he’s a fugitive from a democratic country with a criminal justice system like that found in the US.
She went on to say that Norway won’t make use of the refugee transfer program “to evaluate protection in this case.”
Wouldn’t risk ‘diplomatic war’
Legal experts and political commentators have said it was highly improbable Snowden would be offered asylum in Norway, not because he doesn’t deserve it but because the Norwegian government doesn’t want to upset US authorities. Newspaper Aftenposten wrote on Thursday that offering political asylum to Edward Snowden would be the equivalent of a declaration of diplomatic war against the US. That’s why most other countries aren’t offering Snowden asylum, either.
Snowden’s case raises a “moral dilemma,” Aftenposten wrote, because Snowden “is no spy who’s taking his American secrets to another state.” Rather, he’s seen by many as a whistle-blower who’s telling the world about American surveillance activities that most countries view as objectionable, even reprehensible. That in turn raises questions of whether it should be a crime to reveal a crime.
The US authorities, arguably embarrassed by revelations of their surveillance, insist Snowden is a traitor and criminal. Faremo and her Norwegian government colleagues have chosen to respect that claim since it’s coming from an important ally.
Some opposition politicians have noted, however, that if a non-democratic state had been behind this instead of the US, Norway’s reaction likely would have been very different. As Ulf Leirstein of the opposition Progress Party told newspaper Klassekampen, “If it was China and not the US, Norway would have called the ambassador in on the carpet.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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