Support is growing in Norway for fugitive American Edward Snowden, who set off an international controversy after releasing information about the US’ global surveillance programs. This week Snowden also was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, for his efforts to reveal violations of human rights.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that a Swedish professor of sociology at the University of Umeå, Stefan Svallfors, had nominated Snowden for the Peace Prize. Svallfors cited Snowden’s “heroic contribution at great personal cost” towards revealing the amount and depth of US surveillance of electronic communication “the world over.” Svallfors noted that the surveillance violates national laws and international agreements, and that Snowden’s release of information about it “has made the world a little bit better and more secure.”
‘Hero’ vs ‘criminal’
US authorities argue the opposite, calling Snowden a “criminal” who has endangered national security, not enhanced it. The surveillance, US officials have claimed, is necessary in the fight against terrorism, and Snowden, some US politicians claim, is little more than a traitor.
Not so, contend a growing number of Norwegian advocates of freedom of expression and personal privacy who have been writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, taking part in online debates and participating in demonstrations of support for Snowden. Last week, Amnesty International and Norsk PEN organized a rally in favour of Snowden in front of the Norwegian Parliament, criticizing a lack of principle by the Norwegian authorities who they claimed “were following a long string of European countries who have let allies’ interests come before human rights in this case.”
The Norwegian government quickly rejected Snowden’s application for asylum in Norway, and opposition leaders have been either mum or reluctant to comment on Snowden’s case as well. Most believe the lack of clear support for Snowden mirrors a fear of upsetting powerful American allies.
‘Alone against Big Brother’
Instead of focusing on the human rights violations that Snowden has revealed, going after those responsible and starting a process to prevent the surveillance from continuing, the US has chosen to indict Snowden for spying, claims Amnesty International in Norway, fearing that Snowden faces life imprisonment or even a death sentence.
“Snowden is alone against the world’s Big Brother,” says Beate Ekeløve-Slydal of Amnesty in Norway. As of Wednesday, Snowden remained stuck in the transit area of the Moscow airport as he continued to send out asylum appeals.
Norsk PEN, which works to safeguard freedom of expression and human rights, has asked unsuccessfully for the Norwegian government to reconsider its rejection of Snowden’s appeal for asylum. Jan Helge Solbakk, a professor in medical ethics at the University of Oslo, challenged the “moral cowardice” that the authorities have shown.
Writing in a commentary in newspaper Aftenposten, Solbakk claimed that Norway, “like all other members of the United Nations, has obligated itself to protect individuals when their human rights are in danger of being violated. With its quick “no” to Snowden, Solbakk wrote, the Norwegian government has chosen “to wash its hands of the matter and avoid all responsibility for Snowden’s life and fate.”
That, Solbakk argued, is “what a person who, with no personal gain for himself, gets for revealing that those we thought were our friends have violated our most fundamental rights: The right to a private life.”
Fellow professor Svallfors clearly agrees and Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the peace research institute PRIO in Oslo, was among those agreeing that a Nobel Peace Prize for Snowden “was no stupid idea.” Audun Lysbakken, head of Norway’s Socialist Left party (SV) that’s a member of Norway’s government coalition, defied his own government by also supporting the idea of a peace prize for Snowden.
“I think it’s an exciting proposal,” Lysbakken told newspaper Dagsavisen. “If it’s realistic, I don’t know, but I think it’s positive that support is mobilizing for him.” Snørre Valen of SV calls Snowden “a hero.”
Some question whether the Norwegian Nobel Committee would dare to defy the US government, just a few years after awarding the prize to US President Barack Obama. Svallfors criticized that prize as “hasty” while others contend the Nobel Committee is independent enough to make its own decisions without thought to any ill effects on Norway. Its prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiabao, for example, is still hurting the Norwegian government’s relations with China.
Svallfors’ specific proposal, though, was for the Peace Prize for 2013, and the deadline for those nominations passed months ago. The Norwegian Nobel Committee could thus reject the nomination from coming in too late, or they could hang on to it for next year’s consideration.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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