MOSCOW -- Edward Snowden, the fugitive leaker who revealed the secret U.S. effort to track phone and Internet communications, told Russian human rights activists and lawyers on Friday that he will seek political asylum in Russia, the state-owned RIA Novosti news service reported.
Activist Tanya Lokshina, who attended the meeting with Snowden at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, told the news service that the former contract worker for the National Security Agency wanted their help petitioning the U.S. and European states not to interfere with his asylum process.
[Updated at 7:40 a.m. July 12: Snowden said asylum in Russia, at least for now, is the only option he sees that would provide for his security, said Lokshina, director of the Human Rights Watch Moscow office.
“Basically he asked us to help him on two issues: first to petition for his request for asylum to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, at least until he could travel to Latin America,” Lokshina told The Times. “Secondly he would like us to appeal to the governments of the United States and countries of European Union not to interfere with his asylum-seeking process.”
Snowden said that it would be easy for him to comply with Putin’s earlier demand “not to do harm” to the United States, Lokshina said. “I didn’t do any damage to the United States,” Lokshina quoted Snowden as saying.
“Our organization will discuss his request, but I think that Snowden deserves to be rendered assistance he asked us for,” she added.]
Snowden last month revealed that he was the source of leaks to journalists that revealed the extent to which the U.S. tracks communications around the globe. He first fled to Hong Kong and hid in the Chinese city for several weeks while U.S. officials pressed for his extradition. He arrived in Moscow on June 23 on a flight from Hong Kong and has since applied to numerous countries for asylum.
U.S. officials have vowed to pursue and extradite Snowden, who was charged by federal prosecutors last month with two violations of the Espionage Act and theft of government property.
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Snowden's request for a meeting was sent to Russian representatives of Amnesty International, Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, a Polish civil rights group and a U.N. representative in Russia. Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin was also invited, the Interfax report said.
In a letter to the human rights organizations, the text of which was provided to The Times, Snowden thanked the "brave countries around the world" that have offered him asylum.
"By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world," Snowden said in the letter.
"Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. Government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Snowden said.
He was referring in part to the July 3 flight out of Moscow that had Bolivian President Evo Morales on board. The flight was forced to land in Vienna in connection with suspicions the plane might be carrying Snowden to a welcoming Central American or South American country.
"Never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign president's plane to effect a search for a political refugee," Snowden said of the incident.
Snowden said the purported attempts by the U.S. to extradite him represented "a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution."