Press release

Manhunt for Snowden must be stopped

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05 Jul 2013


This content is available in: Spanish, French


ARTICLE 19 is gravely concerned with the safety and future fate of Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor and whistleblower, who exposed mass surveillance by the US and UK governments. 

Snowden’s request for political asylum was sent to 21 countries but has already been rejected by at least eight. There is also strong evidence of the USA putting pressures on European countries to close their airspace to Bolivian President Morales’ plane, forcing it to land in Austria where it was reportedly searched.    

“The manhunt for Edward Snowden must be stopped. More energy is being spent on arresting one whistleblower that exposed human rights violations than has been spent on finding and arresting perpetrators of war crimes or crimes against humanity.  Governments from around the world should be ashamed,” says Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the various initiatives around the world, from a range of political actors, seeking to protect Edward Snowden. These include:

  • A draft bill in Iceland, backed by three parties: Brighter Future, Piran (the Pirate Party) and the Green Party, which would make Edward Snowden a citizen of Iceland 
  • French party leaders from across the political spectrum have called on France to grant Snowden political asylum
  • A request by Marc Tarabella, member of the European Parliament that Snowden is invited to a hearing in the European Parliament and issued a temporary EU passport
  • A request by Irish parliamentarians Clare Daly and David Noris to the Irish government to support Snowden’s application, “act proactively to protect him”, and give him refugee status
  • Pledges by Bolivian President, Evo Morales, to consider granting asylum to Snowden, and an initiative by UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) to condemn the retaliation against Morales for this pledges. 

ARTICLE 19 reminds governments from around the world that the right to seek and to enjoy asylum is a fundamental human right recognised by international law. The “right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” is a key provision in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is guaranteed in the UN Refugee Convention and its Protocol. 

A number of governments have rejected Edward Snowden’s demand for asylum, even though his request has not been properly reviewed and assessed by the national agencies or courts actors responsible for such processes. Their political decision violates international standards on refugee status determination.

Governments around the world should protect individuals who are attacked for speaking out on violations of human rights. This principle particularly applies to EU member states, given their stated commitments to human rights, and Latin American states, given the history of the continent and its struggle for democratisation.

A growing number of international instruments recognise the importance of whistleblowers and require or encourage states to adopt measures to protect disclosure. Whistleblowing is protected as an aspect of freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights and by a number of regional human rights agreements. 

In the light of the various official and other statements made by political leaders in the USA regarding the “traitor” Edward Snowden, and the US record of treatment of other whistleblowers who disclosed sensitive or classified information on human rights violations, there is little doubt that Snowden’s fear for persecution must be the object of a proper and objective review by refugee determination actors.

Edward Snowden fled the USA because of fear of persecution for his disclosure of a widespread, largely unregulated system of surveillance by the US and UK governments, including the US Prism programme. The surveillance practices have violated the right to freedom of expression and the privacy of millions people around the world. This disclosure was in the public interest both in the US and globally. The actions of the US government to pursue criminal charges and extradite Snowden amount to a punitive measure to silence him. 

Edward Snowden has demonstrated enormous courage to stand up for human rights protection and principles of openness, democracy and accountability, and at great personal risk. Governments should honour this courage and protect him against retaliation.