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Fugitive Snowden Meets With Rights Groups

  • RFE/RL's Russian Service

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is meeting with Russian human rights activists and lawyers at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.

The meeting is taking place in the airport's transit area, where the fugitive whistle-blower has been stranded since flying from Hong Kong on June 23.

This is the first time Snowden, who is wanted by Washington on espionage charges for leaking details of top-secret U.S. surveillance programs, has been seen in public since his arrival in the Russian capital.

Transparency International, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and several top Russian lawyers are among those who were reportedly invited.

"Snowden's case is yet another lesson to many countries, including our country, that a person has the right to talk about violations of human rights and the surveillance of correspondence and telephone communications," Amnesty International Russia Director Sergei Nikitin told RFE/RL before the meeting.

"We say, therefore, that the U.S. authorities have infringed on [Snowden's] rights to travel freely and seek refuge abroad," he added.

Nikitin said Snowden should not be extradited to the United States because he faces what Nikitin called "a real threat of cruel treatment."

Snowden wrote earlier to the Reuters news agency to say that the meeting would be closed to the media, but that he planned to speak to journalists later.

'Unlawful' U.S. Efforts

In an e-mail to the rights groups, Snowden denounced what he described as an "unlawful" campaign by U.S. authorities to prevent him from taking up offers of political asylum from Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.

Snowden said the "scale of threatening behavior is without precedent," citing the July 3 rerouting of a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales on suspicions Snowden was onboard.

Morales's 14-hour layover in Vienna, during which his plane was searched, infuriated Bolivian authorities.

Bolivian officials have accused the United States of orchestrating the incident and threatened to shut down the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia.

In his letter, Snowden called the plane's rerouting "a dangerous escalation" representing a threat "to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution."

The Snowden case has also sparked tensions between China and the United States.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on July 11 said Washington was "very disappointed" that China had not sent the fugitive back from Hong Kong to the United States.

"When we encounter differences, or sensitive issues, we need to address them directly in consultation with one another and that is why we were very disappointed with how the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong handled the Snowden case, which undermined our effort to build the trust needed to manage difficult issues," Burns said.

China's State Councilor Yang Jiechni backed Hong Kong's decision, saying the semiautonomous region had acted according to its laws and was "beyond reproach."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS