An Oslo law firm has filed suit against the Norwegian state on behalf of US whistleblower Edward Snowden. The suit is part of a new legal attempt to make it possible for Snowden to travel in and out of Norway this autumn to receive a prize for defending freedom of expression.
Norsk PEN, the Norwegian chapter of the international organization that fights for the rights of poets, editors, essayists and novelists to express themselves, has retained Advokatfirmaet Schjødt to help clear the way for Snowden to visit Oslo in November. That involves a suit filed against Norway’s Justice Ministry, seeking verification of what the suit claims is Snowden’s right to safely enter and leave Norway without risking arrest and extradition to the US. The ministry had no immediate comment on the legal claim.
Snowden, best known for revealing massive and illegal surveillance by the US, has been charged with espionage, theft and conversion of government property in the US. Norway has an extradition treaty with the US, which reportedly has pressured Norway and many other allies to hand Snowden over to US authorities should he enter Norwegian territory. Snowden currently remains in exile in Russia.
Norsk PEN awarded Snowden its Ossietzky Prize for 2016 and invited him to receive the prize at the University of Oslo’s Aula on November 18. Norsk PEN announced in a press release Thursday that Snowden has “a strong wish” to come to Norway to accept the prize in person.
He’s reluctant to risk arrest and extradition, however, so Norsk PEN and its chairman William Nygaard are taking steps to secure court confirmation that Norway can’t extradite Snowden to the US. Norsk PEN stresses that Snowden’s actions in revealing the US’ spying on allies, their top political leaders and ordinary Americans were “clearly of political character” and thus exempt him from Norway’s obligations to honour its extradition agreement with the US.
Testing the treaty
“We want to test part of the extradition treaty, paragraph 5,” Nygaard told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It states that someone who wants to come to the country, and had a political motive for the acts, can’t be extradited to the US.”
Nygaard himself commands respect in Norway, after surviving an assassination attempt after the publishing firm he headed released The Satanic Verses. Others in Norway have noted that Norway also won’t extradite people to countries where they may face the death penalty, which exists in many US states.
Halvard Helle, a partner in the Schjødt firm, called the case “unique” in Norway because there’s no precedence yet it builds on currently applicable law. “It is stipulated that no one can be extradited for political violations,” Helle told NRK.
Norsk PEN noted in its press release that a US Court of Appeals ruled last year that the US’ surveillance of millions of telephone conversations was illegal because it was not approved by the US Congress. “Snowden has, however, failed to meet any understanding from American authorities,” Norsk PEN wrote. “They are upholding the charges against him … and demanding that he be extradited by Russian authorities.” He risks being sentenced and convicted to many decades in US prison, Norsk PEN wrote.
“We support him 100 percent because his case is important and because of his role as a whistleblower,” Hege Newth Nouri, secretary general of Norsk PEN told NRK. She said Norsk PEN was backing the lawuit “because it’s important both legally and as a matter of principle that Snowden’s case is tested in Norway, to find out whether he can be extradited to the US, or not.”