Rights group: Edward Snowden to seek temporary asylum in Russia - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Rights group: Edward Snowden to seek temporary asylum in Russia

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A handout photo made available by Human Rights Watch shows former CIA employee Edward Snowden during a private meeting inside Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow Friday. A handout photo made available by Human Rights Watch shows former CIA employee Edward Snowden during a private meeting inside Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow Friday.

By Albina Kovalyova, Producer, NBC News

MOSCOW (NBC) -- Edward Snowden is to seek temporary asylum in Russia but still hopes to travel to Latin America to avoid prosecution by U.S. authorities, according to rights groups who met him at a Moscow airport Friday.

The self-declared leaker, who has been holed up in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23, is to filing an official request for temporary asylum, according to Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch.

Lokshina, who was among a small group that met with Snowden Friday, also said Snowden's condition was "just fine."

Although the meeting was not public, Lokshina and other rights group representatives posted details to Twitter and released a handout image of Snowden whose authenticity could not independently be confirmed by NBC News.

"I have been extremely fortunate to enjoy and accept many offers of support and asylum from brave countries around the world," Snowden wrote in the letter. "These nations have my gratitude, and I hope to travel to each of them to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.

"By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. 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.

"The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent: 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," he added, referring to the grounding of Bolivian President Evo Morales' jet in Austria last week amid suspicions that the leaker was on board.

"This dangerous escalation represents 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," Snowden said.
Amnesty International last week called on the U.S. not to "persecute" Snowden by pressuring other countries into handing him over to authorities.

Russia has already indicated it would like Snowden to accept one of the asylum offers and leave the airport as soon as possible. Experts say it is possible Snowden could refuse all the offers and formally enter Russia, creating a potential diplomatic headache for Putin who would have to choose whether to hand the leaker over to U.S. prosecutors.

A crowd of reporters in Cuba greeted an Aeroflot flight from Moscow on Thursday after its flight path appeared to avoid U.S. airspace, prompting speculation Snowden was on board, en route to Venezuela.

However, airline officials later confirmed Snowden had not been on the flight.

Speculation over the flight's potential passenger coincided with a visit to Cuba by 20 international journalists, who had been invited to see the country's economic reforms and rushed to the airport.
"It was a normal flight," one male crew member told reporters as he pushed past the cameras.
CNBC's Justin Solomon and Reuters contributed to this report.

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