30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Ecuador analysing Snowden asylum request as 'freedom of expression' issue
Ecuador’s foreign minister says his government is analysing an asylum request from Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor wanted for revealing secrets.
“We are analysing it with a lot of responsibility,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters on Monday through a translator at a hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam.
He says the decision “has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world”.
Patino spoke briefly to reporters on his way to a meeting with Vietnam’s foreign minister. He did not say how long it would take Ecuador to decide.
“There are some governments that act more upon their own interests, but we do not,” Patino said when asked if he was concerned about potentially damaging Ecuador’s relationship with the United States. “We act upon our principles.”
“We take care of human rights of the people,” he added.
Patino will hold a news conference Monday evening in Hanoi.
Snowden, the target of a US arrest warrant issued on Friday after the IT contractor leaked details of US cyber-espionage programmes to the media, arrived in Moscow Sunday on a direct flight from Hong Kong and was expected to head to Ecuador via Cuba.
Initial reports said the man behind one of the most significant security breaches in US history would fly to the Venezuelan capital Caracas, but Ecuador’s foreign minister said Snowden had asked Quito for asylum.
The South American country, led by outspoken leftist President Rafael Correa, has been sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted by Sweden, at its London embassy for the past year.
The WikiLeaks website said it had helped organise Snowden’s safe exit and confirmed he “is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum”.
Russian officials said Snowden could still potentially make it to Ecuador without a valid US passport.
“If he has asked for asylum in Ecuador then they could give him a refugee document or even Ecuadorian citizenship allowing him to continue his journey,” a security source told Interfax.
Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, legal director of WikiLeaks, condemned the pursuit of both Assange and Snowden as an “assault against the people”.
Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
Video: A diplomatic car from the Ecuadorian embassy met Edward Snowden at Moscow's airport.