Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has criticized United States president Barack Obama’s administration for attempting to thwart efforts by Edward Snowden to seek asylum, while sheltering more than a thousand Russian fugitives.
“The US government’s hypocrisy over Snowden’s right to seek asylum has been stunning,” Assange said in a statement from his hideout at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he fled to escape charges of publishing US government secrets on the Weakileaks website.
“America offers asylum to dissidents, whistleblowers and political refugees without regard to other governments’ opposition all the time. For example, the US has accepted 3 103 of their own asylees, 1 222 from Russia, 1 762 from Venezuela.”
Assange said by pursuing Snowden so relentlessly, the US justice department was betraying the principles that shaped Obama’s 2008 campaign: transparency and protection for whistleblowers.
“During his 2008 campaign, the President supported whistleblowers, claiming their ‘acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives, and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled’. Yet his administration has prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers than all other administrations combined,” Assange said.
He said Snowden’s role as a ‘whistleblower’ had been ‘validated’ by Obama’s announcement Friday that he had ordered a review of the US government’s global surveillance programme.
“But rather than thank Edward Snowden, the President laughably attempted to criticize him while claiming that there was a plan all along, ‘before Edward Snowden’. The simple fact is that without Snowden’s disclosures, noone would know about the programs and no reforms could take place,” said Assange.
Snowden’s father Lon said on Sunday that he would soon visit Russia to persuade his son to come home and face justice. Obama on Friday refused to classify Snowden as a “patriot” or even a whistleblower. The president said: “If in fact he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case. If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr Snowden leaked this information that provided whistleblower protection to the intelligence community – for the first time. So there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions.”
Obama has been criticized by intelligence experts for taking a ‘simplistic’ view of a case that has “wreaked havoc on US-Russia relations”. The White House cancelled a Moscow summit between Obama and his Russian opposite Vladmir Putin, citing lack of progress on key issues and disagreement over Snowden.
Former US ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, who also served in the Kremlin during Soviet days, said: “Washington has forgotten how the game is played in such cases. The administration unwisely fuelled an expectation that the Russians might send Snowden back, which Moscow was never going to do.”