Friday, June 28, 2013

What Edward Snowden Can Expect Under Russian Law

What Edward Snowden Can Expect Under Russian Law

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Edward Snowden
Former NSA employee Edward Snowden, who remains in the transit area at Sheremetyevo Airport, could remain there indefinitely, even as the US attempts to have him extradited for the disclosure of information about government surveillance of electronic communications. This matter is regulated in Russia under Art. 31 of the Law on Entry and Exit. According to attorney Vladislav Kocherin from the Legis Group, in order to remain in Russia lawfully for more than 24 hours, Snowden must obtain a transit visa, which can be issued to him for a period of no more than 10 days. Such a visa is for one-time use only and can be extended only if there are specific reasons; for example, in the event that it is impossible to depart Russia due to extreme circumstances. In Kocherin’s opinion, in revoking Snowden’s passport, the US has created such circumstances and Snowden’s visa may be extended until he disappears.
A representative of the Foreign Ministry did not reply to Vedomosti’s question as to whether Snowden was issued a transit visa.
The US may initiate an official procedure to extradite Snowden, based on a 1999 Russian-American agreement on mutual legal aid in criminal cases; there is no extradition agreement between Russia and the US. However, the 1999 agreement, according to Kocherin, is very unspecific and does not bind Russia to any actions regarding Snowden’s extradition. Representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office (where the request must be sent) and the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (which must fulfill the requests of the Prosecutor General’s Office) did not answer Vedomosti’s question about whether such a request had been received from the US. If there is the political will, Snowden must be extradited within two weeks, but if he manages to submit a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, the process may take years, says attorney Andrei Andrusenko.
In their statements this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell did not say whether a formal request for Snowden’s extradition had been sent to Russia, but they noted that the US had turned over several important Russian criminals to Russia in recent years and can count on reciprocity.
But only some small fry were given to Russian law-enforcement agencies, and when requests were made for criminals of serious interest to the Russian Interior Ministry, the Americans basically sent back form letters or suggestions to find information about them on the Internet, said an Interior Ministry official. Thus, the atmosphere on this issue cannot be said to be favorable.
Political bargaining with the US over the fate of Snowden would be awkward and is unlikely be made: if Moscow turned Snowden over to Washington, it would be humiliated before the whole world, half of whom consider him a hero, political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov believes. Therefore, the period of his stay at Sheremetyevo will last as long as the search for a safe country to which he could fly, but there are only a few such countries which don’t fear a confrontation with the US, and the search could drag on for some time.
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Edward Snowden: in defence of whistleblowers | Editorial | Comment is free

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Link to video: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: 'I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things'
No government or bureaucracy loves a whistleblower. Those who leak official information will often be denounced, prosecuted or smeared. The more serious the leak, the fiercer the pursuit and the greater the punishment. Edward Snowden knew as much before contacting this newspaper to reveal some of the things that troubled him about the work, scope and oversight of the US and British intelligence agencies. He is unlikely to be surprised at the clamour to have him locked up for life, or to have seen himself denounced as a traitor.
It was also quite predictable that Snowden would be charged with criminal offences, even if there is something shocking in the use of the 1917 Espionage Act – a measure intended to prevent anti-war speech in the first world war by treating it as sedition. On the available evidence Snowden's almost certain motive for speaking out was far removed from anything resembling espionage, sedition or anti-Americanism. His attempts to stay beyond the clutches of US law may involve travel to countries with a poor record on freedom of expression. But his choice of refuge does not, of itself, make him a traitor. As Buzzfeed's Ben Smith has written ("You don't have to like Edward Snowden"): "Snowden's personal story is interesting only because the new details he revealed are so much more interesting. We know substantially more about domestic surveillance than we did, thanks largely to stories and documents printed by The Guardian. They would have been just as revelatory without Snowden's name on them."
America is blessed with a first amendment, which prevents prior restraint and affords a considerable measure of protection to free speech. But the Obama administration has equally shown a dismaying aggression in not only criminalising leaking and whistleblowing, but also recently placing reporters under surveillance – tracking them and pulling their phone and email logs in order to monitor their sources for stories that were patently of public importance.
There is a link to the material Snowden has leaked, and to his stated motive for doing so. In a world of total monitoring – where intelligence agencies aspire to collect and store every single email, text message and phone call – serious investigative reporting becomes difficult, if not impossible. Normal interchanges between sources and journalists cannot take place in such a world. Officials who were once willing to talk are already chilled. In future they would be silenced. Thanks to Edward Snowden we are beginning to glimpse what another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, has described as "a vast, systemic institutionalized, industrial-scale Leviathan surveillance state that has clearly gone far beyond the original mandate to deal with terrorism".
President Obama has welcomed the debate about the uses, limits and oversight of surveillance – and there is now a vigorous discussion emerging in America and Europe, if not so much in a too-complacent Britain. But a debate is only possible because of the facts which have been put into the public domain, not by government but by a whistleblower and a still freeish press. This much was acknowledged yesterday by the German justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who yesterday wrote to our own home secretary in forthright terms: "In today's world, the new media form the cornerstone of a free exchange of views and information."
Max Frankel, the 83-year-old former New York Times executive editor, wrote this week in his old newspaper: "As those of us who had to defend the 1971 publication of the secret Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War have been arguing ever since, there can be no mature discussion of national security policies without the disclosure – authorized or not – of the government's hoard of secrets." He is right. Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker 40 years ago, was smeared and denounced at the time. His trial in 1973 collapsed in 1973. History will be kinder to him – and, quite possibly, to Snowden.
• The headline on this article was amended on 26 June 2013 to give a more accurate representation of the article's substance