U.S. officials should be condemned for "bullying" other nations in their attempts to get them to turn over Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, who leaked classified information on massive surveillance programs there, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Monday.
Officials with WikiLeaks, assisting Snowden in his request for political asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and other countries, said Snowden has a right under the United Nations' Refugee Convention to seek asylum and the U.N. agreement supersedes espionage charges Snowden faces in the U.S.
The refugee pact protects people "who are being persecuted for political opinion," said Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and an attorney for WikiLeaks. Whistleblowers exposing government corruption are included in those protections, said Ratner, who helped with Assange's application for asylum in Ecuador.
"It is counterproductive and unacceptable for the Obama administration to try and interfere with those rights," Assange said during a press briefing Monday. "It reflects poorly on the U.S. administration, and no self-respecting country would submit to such interference or such bullying by the U.S. in this matter."
Snowden is safe, healthy and in good spirits, Assange said. He declined to give Snowden's location. Snowden had been in Russia, en route to Ecuador, but has gone into hiding in a possible attempt to discourage the U.S. from seeking extradition.
White House response
U.S. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday the Obama administration believes Snowden remained in Russia. Obama administration officials are in ongoing negotiations with their Russian counterparts on that country turning Snowden over to U.S. authorities, he said.
The Obama administration was disappointed with Hong Kong's "failure to act" on the U.S. extradition request when Snowden was there, Carney added.
Ecuador is considering Snowden's asylum request, Ricardo Patiño Aroca, Ecuador's minister of foreign affairs, trade and integration, said Monday. WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said Snowden has also applied for asylum in Iceland and other countries, but he declined to name the other countries.
Assange and Ratner slammed the Obama administration for pursuing charges against Snowden. Secretary of State John Kerry's description of Snowden as a traitor is inaccurate and contrary to U.S. law, Assange said.
"The Obama administration was not given a mandate by the people of the United States to hack and spy upon the entire world, to breach the U.S. Constitution and the laws of other nations in the manner that it has," Assange said. The U.S. attempts to extradite Snowden "further demonstrates the breakdown in the rule of law by the Obama administration."