U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden has asked for “temporary” political asylum in Russia, agreeing to President Vladimir Putin’s condition to stop “harming” American interests.
Mr. Snowden conveyed his asylum request to 13 Russian rights activists, lawyers and political figures that he invited on Friday to the transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has been living for the past 19 days. It was Mr. Snowden’s first public appearance since he flew to Moscow from Hong Kong after exposing a global electronic surveillance programme run by the U.S. National Security Agency.
“Snowden asked human rights activists and lawyers to support his asylum appeal,” said lawyer Anatoly Kucherena who attended the meeting.
“He assured us that he was ready to accept [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s condition for receiving Russian asylum and halt activities damaging to the U.S.,” Mr. Kucherena told Vesti 24 TV channel.
It is the second time Mr. Snowden is asking for Russian asylum. He retracted his first request after Mr. Putin said he could stay in Russia on condition that “he must stop his work aimed at harming our U.S. partners.”
“Snowden said he would have no problem meeting Putin’s terms for asylum,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a senior pro-Kremlin lawmaker. “He said that he has already revealed all he knew and would not harm the U.S in future.”
In an early official reaction, Russian Parliament speaker Sergei Naryshkin said Moscow should give Mr. Snowden asylum because he faced capital punishment in the U.S.
“We have no right to let it happen. We must grant him asylum or temporary shelter,” the Russian speaker said.
Mr. Snowden told the Russian rights activists that he had exposed the U.S. electronic spying because it violated Amendments 4 and 5 of the U.S. Constitution as well as international civil rights conventions.
The Russian lawyers present at the meeting with the fugitive American promised to help him draft a formal asylum application.
Mr. Kucherena said it could take two to three weeks for Russian authorities to process Mr. Snowden’s asylum request.
“I asked him whether he liked it in Russia and he answered with a chuckle: ‘It’s safe here’,” lawmaker Nikonov said.
At the same time Mr. Snowden suggested that he could later resettle to another country. “He did not rule out later going to some country in Latin America,” said Sergei Nikitin of the Amnesty International, who had also been invited to meet with Mr. Snowden.