An attorney for exiled US whistle-blower Edward Snowden has warned his client against traveling to Norway to accept a prize he won from a Norwegian academy advancing literature and freedom of expression. The risk of Snowden being turned over to US authorities while in Norway is viewed as too high.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday from Moscow that Russian attorney Anatolij Kutsjerna had noted during a local radio broadcast that Norway has an extradition treaty with the US, which already has revoked Snowden’s passport. Kutsjerna fears Snowden, who’s charged with leaking confidential information about the US’ controversial surveillance methods, therefore could be handed over to his American prosecutors.
Kutsjerna noted that the current US-led corruption case around the international football association FIFA shows how much influence the US has over other countries. NRK reported that he therefore was advising Snowden, who currently lives in political exile in Russia, not to take chances with his own security by traveling to Norway.
The entire situation around Snowden is highly political, not least in Norway after Snowden was named as this year’s winner of the Bjørnson Prize, awarded by the Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Academy/The Norwegian Academy for Literature and Freedom of Expression. The academy was founded in 2003 by author Knut Ødegård and named after the late author and politician Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who also wrote the text for Norway’s national anthem and won a Nobel Prize in literature. Bjørnson, who died in 1910, was also known as a champion of human rights and for his campaigns against political persecution in several countries in Europe.
Prize challenges the government
Previous winners have mostly been authors and poets, including Turkish writer Yasar Kemal, with none so high-profile or internationally known as Snowden. The current president of the academy, Hege Newth Nouri, has already made it clear that in awarding the prize to Snowden, the academy is challenging the Norwegian government to guarantee his security while in Norway and defy any attempts by the US to demand his extradition. “It remains to be seen how brave Norway is,” Newth Nouri told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday.
The academy’s own lawyers believe Snowden should be able to safely travel in and out of Norway. Even though his passport was revoked, they point to a Norwegian law that allows state immigration agency UDI, in special circumnstances, to exempt a foreigner from passport requirements for entry into the country. Emanual Feinberg of the Oslo law firm Schjødt also maintained that Norwegian authorities can resist any extradition demands from the US on the grounds that the charges against Snowden are of “political character.”
The academy has sent a letter to both Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Justice Minister Ander Anundsen, asking them to make sure Snowden can travel to Norway to accept his prize in September without being handed over to US authorities. Anundsen deferred to UDI on the matter, claiming he would not “take over the handling of a specific case.” UDI didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Visit viewed as unlikely
Few Norwegian politicians have been willing to comment on the prospect of Snowden coming to Norway. Michael Tetzschner of the ruling Conservative Party has earlier said he thinks Snowden should be arrested and turned over to US authorities if he ever set foot on Norwegian soil and he hasn’t changed his mind. “Any organization can give a prize to whoever they want, but we live in a country governed by law where the law applies to everyone,” Tetzschner told Dagsavisen.
Bård Vegar Solhjell of the small Socialist Left party (SV) wished Snowden welcome and said he should be offered political protection in Norway. The Liberal Party, one of the government’s two small support parties, is also “positive” to Snowden traveling to Norway to receive his prize, according to the party’s Iselin Nybø.
It remains highly unlikely Norway’s government, which refused to meet the Dalai Lama last year for fear of offending China again, will risk offending or challenging the US on the Snowden case, according to political observers. As government ministers remained mum, peace researcher Kristian Berg Harpviken told NRK it would be “nearly impossible” for a Norwegian government to clear the way for Snowden to visit Norway to accept a prize for exactly what angered and embarrassed the Americans. Harpviken noted that Snowden is charged with spying and is consistently referred to as a “traitor” by Norway’s closest and biggest ally, the US: “I think the chances of Snowden coming to Norway to accept a prize in 2015 are quite close to zero.”