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.
Whistle-blower Snowden has own 'no fly zone'
Bolivian president's plane is diverted after four European countries close airspace, fearing fugitive Edward Snowden was on board
The world just got a whole lot smaller for Edward Snowden.
Western European countries apparently shut their airspace to Bolivian president Evo Morales' plane because of speculation the fugitive US national security whistle-blower was on board. Their alleged actions forced Morales' plane to divert to Austria, where it was searched, and triggered a diplomatic row.
They also suggest how difficult it will be for Snowden to leave Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he has been stuck in transit since leaving Hong Kong 10 days ago.
France, Italy, Spain and Portugal were said to have closed their airspace to the plane as the South American leader was flying home after talks in Moscow. French, Spanish and Portuguese officials denied having done so.
Before boarding his plane in Moscow, Morales had said he would consider an application for asylum from Snowden, and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro said the 30-year-old deserved "the world's protection".
Morales flew out of the Austrian capital yesterday after a stopover of more than 12 hours.
The Bolivian ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, said a complaint would be lodged with UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
"The decisions of these countries have violated international law," he said.
Bolivia's regional allies Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Nicaragua harshly criticised the European countries involved.
"It's clear that the US is chasing him down but it's harder to tell how much political European considerations are behind it," said Professor Martin Scheinin, an expert in international law and human rights at the European University Institute in Italy.
Scheinin said Snowden's options were limited despite the wide net he had cast by applying for political asylum with more than 20 countries, because the former CIA analyst's legal position was not clear-cut.
"It's a difficult case and his likelihood of getting asylum in Nordic or western European countries is quite slim," he said.
"To grant Snowden protection without a legal obligation to do so would be a discretionary political act and probably no European country would want to be seen carrying out such an act."
Scheinin said asylum used to be granted for protection on political or personal grounds "but more and more, countries are conflating it with the legal obligation to recognise refugee status". Snowden would not meet the definition of a refugee because he is not a member of a persecuted group. "Snowden is subject to criminal prosecution and imprisonment, not persecution."
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse