Applications for asylum or asylum assistance were submitted on behalf of former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to a number of countries including China, Russia, and India, whistle-blower site WikiLeaks said Tuesday.
Snowden, who leaked information about NSA surveillance programs, was charged by the U.S. in a federal court for theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person. The complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was filed on June 14.
The asylum-related requests were submitted by hand by Sarah Harrison, WikiLeaks' legal advisor in the Snowden matter, to an official at the Russian consulate at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow late Sunday evening, WikiLeaks said.
Among the countries approached were Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and Venezuela. A Russian official has confirmed receiving an application for asylum in the country, according to reports.
"The requests join or update others previously made including to the Republic of Ecuador and the Republic of Iceland," WikiLeaks said in a statement.
WikiLeaks did not provide information on the outcome of the requests, except that the requests have started to be delivered by the Russian consulate to relevant embassies in Moscow.
Snowden's request for asylum in Ecuador hasn't moved because the government of Ecuador wants him to seek asylum from Ecuador territory, according to reports. U.S. vice president Joe Biden is also said to have spoken to Ecuador President Rafael Correa to ask him not to grant Snowden asylum.
Snowden, who is said to be in the transit facility of the airport in Moscow after the U.S. revoked his passport, on Monday criticized the "deception" of U.S. President Barack Obama who last week said that he would not permit any diplomatic "wheeling and dealing" over the Snowden issue.
"Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions," Snowden said in a statement released through WikiLeaks.
The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon, Snowden wrote. "Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum."
The NSA was allowed by a court order to collect phone metadata of a large number of customers of Verizon, according to a report in the Guardian last month. The information was said to have been leaked by Snowden who also passed on documents that suggested that the NSA had real-time access to the content on servers of Internet companies like Facebook and Google.
26 U.S. senators, cutting across party lines, said on Friday they are seeking "public answers" on a number of issues related to the surveillance, including whether the National Security Agency collected in bulk other data such as credit card purchases and financial information in the U.S. besides phone records, and specific evidence of how the surveillance helped foil terrorist plots.
New legislation, introduced last week in the U.S. Senate, called the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013, aims to reform the Patriot and FISA Amendments Acts to provide greater oversight and control to the government's surveillance programs.
Whistle-blowers, authors, academicians and actors have urged Correa to grant Snowden political asylum, stating that the Obama administration, U.S. Congress and most of the media have focused "their ire on the messenger," instead of focusing on the danger to citizens' freedom and privacy exposed by the revelations, and the reforms necessary to protect citizens' rights. A letter signed by Pentagon papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, author Noam Chomsky and film director Oliver Stone, among others, was released Monday by organization Just Foreign Policy.