MOSCOW, July 12 (RIA Novosti) – Fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said Friday that he plans to ask Russia for temporary asylum “today,” in hopes of eventual safe passage to Latin America, and asked about a dozen prominent Russian lawyers and rights activists to support his request.
Snowden’s statement came during his first public appearance since arriving from Hong Kong on a June 23 flight to Moscow and was retold by those who met with him, and also posted online by Wikileaks, the controversial free-speech organization that has been his advocate in recent weeks.
“I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as … my legal travel is permitted,” Snowden said in the statement posted on Wikileaks’ website. “I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably.”
Snowden’s US passport has been invalidated as part of Washington’s effort to return him to the United States to stand trial on charges of espionage and property theft after leaking details of secret state surveillance programs
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that Moscow had offered Snowden asylum under the condition that he stop his work aimed at “damaging our American partners,” an option Snowden reportedly rejected.
After Friday’s closed meeting – which took place at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where Snowden is believed to have been holed up since his arrival – pro-Kremlin lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters that Snowden said he is now ready to accept Russia's terms.
"He said he knows about Putin's conditions. He said he knows [them] and accepts [them], and said that he considers himself a patriot," Nikonov said.
He added that Snowden said he sees "no other choice."
Another meeting attendee, Tatyana Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, quoted Snowden as saying, "No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the US," according to an earlier tweet from New York Times reporter Ellen Barry.
No comments to this effect were included in Snowden’s official statement. But Nikonov also told reporters that Snowden said "he does not intend to do damage to the USA."
While Putin has said that Moscow will not extradite Snowden to the United States, where he could face the death penalty, the Kremlin has also tried to keep its distance from the case, emphasizing that it is a human rights issue.
Russian officials did not immediately confirm whether a formal asylum request had yet been filed.
However, a number of Kremlin loyalists quickly said they would support the bid – thereby giving the impression that it would be accepted. In interviews broadcast by Rossiya 24 state-run television, the speakers of both houses of Russia’s parliament – neither of whom attended the Sheremetyevo meeting – voiced their support for the asylum request, as did lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, a member of Russia’s advisory Public Chamber, who did meet with Snowden.
Other attendees included: prominent lawyer Henri Reznik; Sergei Nikitin of Amnesty International; the head of Russian rights organization Resistance, Olga Kostina; and Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin.
Snowden has submitted over 20 asylum applications to countries across the world, but Latin American states, including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, have been the only ones prepared to offer him refuge. None of them, however, has been willing to grant him asylum while he is not on their territory.
Updated throughout with statements from Snowden and those who attended the meeting, as well as the Kremlin and affiliated officials.