American fugitive and whistle-blower Edward Snowden was, as expected, forced to resort to video link over the weekend when accepting a prize he won from a Norwegian group that champions freedom of expression. He took the opportunity to criticize not only his US homeland, where he faces treason charges, but Russia (where he has asylum) and Norway as well, and he may even sue Norway for failing to offer him protection from US authorities.
“My attorneys look at how the law protects human rights in all countries, also when individuals’ actions are viewed as a threat,” Snowden said in the live video interview at the ceremony for this year’s Bjørnson Prize, which he effectively was prohibited from attending. He was clearly disappointed that Norway caved in to pressure from the US, whose authorities specifically asked that Snowden be arrested and extradited to the US if he set foot on Norwegian soil.
Norway also refused to offer Snowden asylum after the US issued a warrant for his arrest because he’d revealed the US’s massive surveillance of international communications. Norwegian leaders, along with many other leaders around the world, were angry when they learned the US had been spying on them, but didn’t follow up on protecting the man who revealed the surveillance. Many media commentators in Norway have thus accused both the current and former Norwegian governments of hiding behind what Dagsavisen called “a cloud of formalities and vague, bureaucratic positions.” Bergens Tidende called the Norwegian government “cowardly and lacking principle” for refusing to ensure Snowden’s safety, while Aftenposten pointed out how Norway failed to practice what it otherwise preaches in terms of freedom of expression and human right. Norwegians won’t send convict Mullah Krekar back to Iraq for fear he’d be executed, but likely would have gone along with extraditing Snowden to the US, where he also could face a death sentence.
Norwegian authorities have also been harshly criticized within Norway for thus allowing another “empty chair” at Saturday’s prize ceremony, this time one left empty not because of China’s imprisonment of a human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize but because of the US’ charges against Snowden and Norway’s refusal to protect him. For the time being, Snowden is forced to remain in Moscow, where he was when US authorities nullified his US passport. Snowden said he sought asylum in 21 countries, including Norway, and was met with silence. Russia was the only one to offer him asylum and he’s thus been there since 2013, even though he has boldly declared that Russia was one of the last places he wanted to live because of its own restrictions on freedom of expression. “The Russian authorities control more and more of the Internet, they control what folks are allowed to see,” he claimed, adding that the media and communications control is both “disappointing and frustrating.”
Now Snowden says he’s willing to sue to test his legal right to asylum in another, more democratic country, as a whistle-blower. Norway, Germany, Switzerland and France are the most likely places, he said, where he may legally demand his right in an attempt to obtain asylum.
He also called on Norwegian authorities, both in the foreign ministry and in other state agencies, to think about how the US asked them to violate their own standard procedures, asylum rules and respect for international rights to seek asylum. Norway, in his view, lost an opportunity to assert its own independence.