With no firm guidelines for considering asylum requests, India took the safer political option of staying out of the diplomatic storm swirling out of fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden’s request for political asylum made to several countries.
The Foreign Office here confirmed receiving a communication requesting asylum from Mr. Snowden at its mission in Moscow. “We have carefully examined the request. Following that examination we have concluded that we see no reason to accede to the request,” said an official spokesperson.
Brazil also rejected the request outright while at least six countries reportedly found technical grounds not to entertain his application. Mr. Snowden withdrew his request to Russia which did not want him to criticise the U.S.
The asylum request to the Indian Embassy in Moscow was among a bunch of 21 submitted by WikiLeaks legal advisor Sarah Harisson to the Russian consulate at Moscow’s Sheremeteyo airport where Mr. Snowden is living in the transit zone.
“The documents outline the risks of persecution Mr. Snowden faces in the United States,” said a WikiLeaks statement.
On the day India turned down the application, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid played down reports of India being the fifth largest target for the U.S. snooping programme which was exposed by Mr. Snowden. He virtually reiterated the defence put up by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his India visit last month.
“This is not scrutiny and access to actual messages. It is only computer analysis of patterns of calls and emails that are being sent. It is not actually snooping specifically on the content of anybody’s message or conversation,” reasoned Mr. Khurshid, who is in Brunei for meetings between Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its dialogue partners including India.
The high-speed Indian response to Mr. Snowden’s request led to wry smiles and comments on Twitter. “India has traditionally provided political refuge to many a figure. Yet its otherwise slow-moving govt rejects Snowden’s plea in record time,” tweeted strategic analyst Brahma Chellaney.
India has traditionally been warm to requests for asylum from people of neighbouring countries. Besides the Dalai Lama, Sri Lankan Tamil leader V. Perumal and slain Afghan President Najibullah’s family, a large number of pro-democracy activists from neighbouring countries are among the 1.8 lakh refugees in the country.
“If the hallmark of Obama presidency will be ‘Yes we scan’, the legacy of the Indian government that spurned Snowden’s plea is ‘Yes we scam’,” Mr. Chellaney continued.
Mr. Khurshid’s comments are a much toned down version of what officials have said and felt about Mr. Snowden’s revelations. Not only were American officials apprised of Indian annoyance, officials had termed the targeting of India as unacceptable.