Administration pressures human rights groups not to help Snowden

The Obama administration on Friday urged human rights groups not to help National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden seek asylum.

A U.S. Embassy official called a human rights activist who was set to meet with Snowden at a media event at the Moscow airport to reiterate the administration's position that he is an accused criminal, not a whistle-blower.

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Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, told The Hill that she was “surprised” by the call but that she “did not find it heavy-handed.”

“I received a call from an embassy staffer when I was on the train to the airport around 3.45 p.m. He said that Ambassador [Michael] McFaul wanted to pass on to me the official position of the US authorities re: Snowden not being a human rights defender but a law breaker who had to be held accountable,” Lokshina said in an email.

“I said in response that the official position of HRW on the case was in our statement published several days back. He said he understood and the embassy was familiar with it but they also wanted me to convey the official US position to Snowden," she said. 

“I thought about it and then decided it was only fair to let him know about the call. Snowden said he was not surprised but strongly disagreed. And stressed that he's been causing no damage to the U.S. but actually wanted the U.S. to prosper.”

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The administration made similar overtures to human rights groups in public statements throughout the day.

“Those groups do important work, but Mr. Snowden is not a human rights activist or dissident,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

“Our concern here,” added State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, “is that he's been provided this opportunity to speak in a propaganda platform ... that Russia has played a role in facilitating this, that others have helped elevate it.”

Some groups accused the administration of violating Snowden's right to have his asylum request considered fairly. 

In a statement Friday afternoon, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Human Rights Program Director Jamil Dakwar accused the administration of having “improperly interfered” with Snowden's asylum rights. And Human Rights Watch General Counsel Dinah PoKempner said Snowden “should be allowed at least to make that claim and have it heard.”

WikiLeaks, which helped organize Friday's appearance by Snowden, jumped on the latest White House interference to reassert that he should not be returned to the United States to face trial.

“This further proves the United States Government’s persecution of Mr Snowden,” the group said, “and therefore that his right to seek and accept asylum should be upheld.”


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