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EU Parliament Calls For Snowden To Get Asylum

It is unlikely European states will provoke a confrontation with the United States and shelter the whistleblower.

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The European Parliament voted narrowly on Thursday to urge its 28 member states to protect NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden from prosecution and extradition and to recognize him as a defender of human rights because of his revelations regarding U.S. and British spying.

Though Snowden’s disclosures caused a firestorm of public controversy in Europe, few nations have been willing to provoke a confrontation with Washington, which has demanded that he be returned to the United States to face espionage charges. And it’s far from certain that Thursday’s non-binding resolution, approved by a vote of 285 to 281, will cause any other European states to step up and protect Snowden from the long arm of the U.S. Justice Department. The former NSA contractor has been living in Russia since 2013.

Asylum protection for Snowden would surely provoke a diplomatic crisis with the United States, and on Thursday the White House reiterated its intention of putting Snowden on trial. “Our position has not changed,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States. As such, he should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process.”

Though it is unlikely to pave an immediate path out of Russia for Snowden, the resolution represents yet another milestone in Snowden’s efforts to bolster the legitimacy of his actions and lay the legal groundwork for his eventual departure from Russia, where he has taken refuge for the last two years. Writing on Twitter, Snowden called the resolution a “game-changer” and said that it “is not a blow against the US Government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward.”

The resolution calls on EU states “to drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistleblower and international human rights defender.”

Snowden has repeatedly said that he would like to leave Russia. Several Latin American nations have offered him legal protection, but the whistleblower is reportedly skeptical that he would be able to reach Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Bolivia without being arrested by U.S. authorities.

Several European states have made non-committal statements as to whether they would grant Snowden asylum, saying that he would have to physically make it to their countries in order to lodge an asylum request. Others, including Poland, have been outright hostile to the notion of granting Snowden legal protection.

The resolution gives Snowden’s defenders a potent argument to fight back against such resistance, but not much more. He probably won’t be leaving Russia any time soon.

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Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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