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Edward Snowden: Is it illegal for US to block his asylum claim?

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has made it clear that he believes he is being pursued for political offenses. But the US government considers him a common lawbreaker and not a human rights case.

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Snowden’s problem is that the US government considers him a common lawbreaker and not a human rights case, and thus he has no claim for asylum in other nations.

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White House spokesman Jay Carney made that clear Friday when asked if the US was illegally denying Snowden his right to claim asylum.

“No, it’s not,” Mr. Carney said. “He has been charged under the law with three felonies, very serious crimes. And every aspect of the United States system of justice is available to him upon his return to the US to face those charges. And that’s how our system works.”

Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights, gave a little cautious support to Snowden on Friday, saying in a statement that pervasive surveillance could amount to a human rights infringement.

“Snowden’s case has shown the need to protect persons disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights, as well as the importance of ensuring respect for the right to privacy,” Ms. Pillay said.

However, many experts noted the irony in Snowden renewing his request for asylum from Russia, which he praised (along with Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador) for “being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful.”

Russia is not generally known as a liberal haven. Human Rights Watch in April documented a Russian crackdown on domestic civil society that the rights group says has led to Russia’s worst human rights climate in the post-Soviet era.

For instance, on Thursday a Russian court posthumously convicted lawyer and dissident Sergei Magnitsky of tax evasion. Mr. Magnitsky died in a Russian prison in 2009 after being beaten with rubber batons and denied medical treatment, writes Michael Hirsh in the National Journal.

Magnitsky’s conviction was simply a thumb in the eye to the US and human rights activists, Mr. Hirsh writes.

“Snowden is obviously a very bright young man who no doubt acted in earnest, and he is in quite an international legal pickle given the US espionage charges against him,” he concludes. “But he also shows signs of a disturbingly solipsistic world view that automatically turns his allies into doers of right and his legal pursuers into oppressors, and in which he casts himself heroically as merely someone who has ‘been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression.' ”

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