MOSCOW — A group of Russian lawmakers and rights advocates who met Friday with Edward Snowden voiced support for his bid to gain asylum in their nation, with one calling the American fugitive "a human rights activist."
“I consider Edward Snowden a human rights activist struggling for the rights of millions and millions of people in the entire world,” Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, told Rossiya-24 television.
“In the United States, which demands his extradition, such punishment as the death penalty is applied, and I believe the risk is very high that this measure of punishment is in for Edward Snowden," Naryshkin said. "We have no right to allow this to happen.”
Snowden met with the group Friday at Moscow's Sheremetyevo-2 International Airport, where he reportedly has been holed up in the transit area since arriving in Russia on June 23.
U.S. officials have been pressing for extradition of the former National Security Agency contract worker, who 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.
Russian lawyer Alexander Kucherena, who attended Friday’s meeting, said he supports Snowden’s request for asylum in Russia and will help him with legal paperwork. Snowden should start with applying to the Federal Migration Service but the decision will be made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kucherena told Rossiya-24.
Putin had previously said that Snowden, who is wanted in the U.S. on charges of violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property, could gain asylum in Russia if he agreed to release no more information damaging to the U.S. government.
Snowden "is in no-way-out situation: He has no passport and can travel nowhere, he has no visa,” Kucherena said. “So he has a right to ask for asylum. If he stays in Russia for five years with an asylum status, which is a kind of residence permit, he can get Russian citizenship in five years.”
Snowden was a little nervous during the meeting, but if he was not making jokes he was nonetheless quite cheerful, Russian lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov told Rossiya-24.
“He started with a kind of statement to the effect that a month ago I had a family, I had a house, I had money and everything,” Nikonov said. “Now he feels he has a mission but he doesn’t want to become a target.”
Snowden is comfortable at the airport and feels safe in Russia, Nikonov said, but he asked that pictures not be taken. “The fewer photos, the more security, he said,” the lawmaker added.