The US whistleblower Edward Snowden said he has renewed his request to seek political asylum in Russia on Friday, in a meeting with human rights activists at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport that marked his first appearance since he fled Hong Kong.
Snowden said he intended to stay in Russia until he could win safe passage to Latin America, according to Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, who was at the meeting.
In a statement to the meeting, released through Wikileaks, Snowden said he had no regrets over what he had done.
Snowden has been trapped in a Moscow airport since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June. He has made nearly two dozen requests for political asylum, most of which have been refused.
Venezuela has agreed to welcome the NSA whistleblower, who leaked secret documents outlining American surveillance programmes, but he remains without travel documents after the US annulled his passport in the wake of the leaks. His request for asylum in Russia appeared to be a tactical move to enable him to travel on to Latin America.
It was unclear how the Russian government would respond to Snowden’s renewed request. Vyacheslav Nikonov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker who attended the meeting, said: “Snowden is serious about obtaining political asylum in the Russian Federation.”
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman repeated earlier conditions that Snowden should stop harming the interests of the United States if he wants asylum. “We need to check this information, but as far as we know, he considers himself a defender of human rights and a campaigner for democratic ideals,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters.
Nikonov said that this message had got through. “He said it would be easy for him to fulfill this requirement,” Nikonov told reporters. He added that Snowden did not consider his actions to be harmful to the US.
In his statement, Snowden stood by his decision to leak a trove of secretNSA documents. He said: “I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.
“That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.”
In an earlier letter to human rights activists inviting them to the meeting, Snowden accused the US of waging an “unlawful campaign” to deny him his “right to … asylum”.
“The scale of threatening behaviour is without precedent,” he said.
Last week, European nations forced the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, to reroute his plane home from Moscow amid suspicions that Snowden was on board.
“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 wrote. “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 summoned human rights activists to the meeting at Sheremetyevo at 5pm local time via an overnight email. In addition to Lokshina, he met Sergei Nikitin of Amnesty International, the Russian lawyer Henry Reznik, Vyacheslav Nikonov, an MP with close ties to the Kremlin, and Vladimir Lukin, the country’s presidential human rights ombudsman.
Snowden previously applied for asylum in Russia but later withdrew the request. The Kremlin said he felt he could not abide by terms set out by Vladimir Putin saying the whistleblower could stay in Russia if he stopped “bringing harm to our American partners”.