03:53 GMT18 April 2021
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    Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor-turned whistleblower, was granted asylum in Russia in 2013 after leaking a trove of classified intelligence on the extent of the US domestic surveillance programme and then fleeing the US. Characterizing himself as a patriot, Snowden has said he would return home if given a fair trial.

    Online pressure asking US President Donald Trump to pardon Edward Snowden has swelled after the president appeared to express sympathy for the whistleblower in a recent interview.

    Speaking to the New York Post on Thursday, Trump said that “there are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly. I mean, I hear that.”

    “Snowden is one of the people they talk about,” Trump added, referring to examples of the alleged misuse of power by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

    “They talk about numerous people, but he is certainly one of the people that they do talk about…I guess the DOJ is looking to extradite him right now?...It’s certainly something I could look at. Many people are on his side, I will say that. I don’t know him, never met him. But many people are on his side,” Trump said.

    Trump’s comments are a reversal from sentiments he expressed in 2013, 2014 and 2017 calling Snowden a “traitor” and suggesting that he should be executed for “treason,” and have raised hopes online that the president might pardon the whistleblower, possibly to curry favour with libertarians and progressives ahead of the November election.

    Snowden himself weighed in on Trump’s comments via Twitter, writing that “the last time we heard a White House considering a pardon was in 2016, when the very same Attorney General who once charged me conceded that, on balance, my work in exposing the NSA’s unconstitutional system of mass surveillance had been ‘a public service.”

    Trump’s remarks also sparked a flood of commentary in support of a pardon, with groups ranging from freedom of press organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union, journalists and ordinary Americans tweeting their support of the idea, with one poll of over 16,000 people finding that over 92 percent of respondents were in favour of clemency for Snowden.

    Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives, publicly expressed his support for a presidential pardon for the whistleblower.

    Even some Trump detractors urged the president to pardon Snowden and others facing prison time over controversial charges, including Ross Ulbricht, who is serving a life sentence for a website selling marijuana, and Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.

    Not everyone agrees with the idea however, with conspiracy theorists convinced that Trump is a ‘Russian agent’ suggesting that a pardon for Snowden would constitute “the fulfillment of [Vladimir] Putin’s tasking of an American president.”

    Snowden, who ended up in Russia in 2013 while attempting to make his way to Ecuador after leaking classified documents on the surveillance activities of the NSA, recently filed documents to extend his residence permit in Russia for another three years.

    The US Justice Department put him on a wanted list in June 2013 for the violation of the Espionage Act, theft of government property, and other charges, and he could face decades in prison if he returned home voluntarily. Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

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