An Oslo city court has rejected a legal attempt to make it safe for US whistleblower Edward Snowden to travel to Norway receive a prize in Oslo later this year. The court won’t handle the lawsuit, filed by groups championing freedom of expression, which seeks a ruling that the state would not be able to extradite Snowden to the US if he comes to Norway to accept his prize this autumn.
Snowden has been awarded the Ossietzky Prize for 2016 by the Oslo-based Norsk PEN organization, which has called Snowden “the Ossietzky of our time.” The prize is named after and dedicated to the Polish activist Carl von Ossietzky, who revealed 80 years ago how German authorities were secretly re-arming in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. The Peace Prize to Ossietzky infuriated Adolph Hitler and other Nazi German officials, who had convicted Ossietzky of treason for revealing the secrets and imprisoned him. Ossietzky was not allowed to travel to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize that he won in 1936.
Norsk PEN is headed by a former publishing executive who was himself the target of an attempted assassination for publishing the Norwegian version of The Satanic Verses in the early 1990s. Norsk PEN has drawn parallels between the Ossietzky case and the case against Snowden, who also has been charged with treason in the US for revealing secret, massive and illegal surveillance of both US and foreign citizens. Like Nazi Germany was at the time, the US is an important ally of Norway and is believed to be putting heavy pressure on Norwegian officials to extradite Snowden should he set foot on Norwegian soil.
Norsk PEN, along with several Norwegian press organizations, has demanded that Norway not allow another “empty chair” in Oslo when Snowden’s latest prize is to be handed to him in November. Norsk PEN had sought a legal ruling that Snowden could not be arrested or extradited while in Norway.
Now NRK reports the freedom of expression groups have lost their first round. The Oslo City Court (Oslo tingrett) sided with state prosecutors, who claimed that extradition issues can’t be addressed in civil lawsuits, and can only be tried under standards set in a criminal case.
Such a case, government attorneys argued, can only come up if an extradition order is actually issued against Snowden. Norsk PEN and its supporters wanted a ruling that essentially would pre-empt an extradition order, and thus make it safe for Snowden to come to Norway to accept his prize.
That would anger US officials, who in turn would expect Norway to extradite Snowden, who currently lives in exile in Russia.
The Oslo court also ruled that Snowden must pay NOK 7,000 (around USD 900) to cover court costs of the rejected lawsuit filed on his behalf. Jon Wessel-Aas, the attorney handling the case on behalf of the press organizations, told NRK that Snowden would file an appeal.