Passengers eat at a cafe in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport Wednesday… (Sergei Grits / Associated…)
MOSCOW -- The upper house of Russia's parliament decided Wednesday to create a special group to investigate whether the United States is violating the human rights of leaker Edward Snowden by pursuing him on espionage charges.
The former contract worker for the National Security Agency is believed to be in the transit section of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he arrived Sunday on a flight from Hong Kong. He is being sought by U.S. officials under a felony warrant for revealing details of the NSA's widespread tracking of telephone communications.
“Snowden is driven into the corner now,” said Russian lawmaker Ruslan Gattarov, who initiated the motion to investigate the American's case. He said the Federation Council, or upper house, had already requested information on the case from the U.S. authorities but that "we have simply been ignored.”
House speaker Valentina Matviyenko said the panel would investigate whether Snowden's human rights had been violated by the U.S. and “if there is interference in [his] private life.”
Another prominent lawmaker called Snowden a dissident and linked him to Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks website published secret U.S. State Department cables, and U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, currently being court-martialed for giving classified documents to the website.
“Assange, Manning and Snowden were not spies, and they gave away secret information not for money but out of convictions,” Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the foreign relations committee of the lower house of parliament, wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “They are new dissidents, fighters against the system.”
But one Russian analyst said Snowden could not be called a dissident in the true sense of the word. Andrei Piontkovsky, senior researcher with the System Analysis Institute, called the house actions a farce.
“If Pushkov dares to draw a parallel between Snowden and Soviet dissidents, I must respond that none of them had anything to do with Soviet special services and none of them pledged not to betray state and departmental secrets,” Piontkovsky said in an interview. “All this talk today about his human rights sounds like a campaign to prepare the public for Snowden indefinitely -- if not forever -- remaining in Russia.”
Piontkovsky said he believed Snowden had ample chances to fly to Ecuador or Venezuela to seek asylum but he is staying in Russia because he no longer can control his movements.
“I am sure the Russian special services must have decided that they need much more time with Snowden than just a couple of days in transit to make him spill all the information he carries,” Piontkovsky said.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that Russia was ready to consider any request for asylum submitted by Snowden. “We have special procedures for such cases,” he said.
On Wednesday, Peskov said he would no longer comment “on anything connected with Snowden.”
Snowden remains in a special secure area rather than at the hotel provided for those staying in the Sheremetyevo airport's transit zone, a Russian Foreign Ministry representative told The Times on condition of anonymity. The former NSA worker is kept “out of sight of prying journalists who buy flight tickets only to get in the transit zone.”
“Snowden is advised to keep a low profile and not to stick his head out for his own good,” he said.
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