US intelligence whistle-blower Edward Snowden has been elected to the post of student rector at Glasgow University in Scotland, a school known for choosing civil rights figures to represent its student body.
Snowden, living in temporary asylum in Russia after disclosing US government secrets on surveillance programs and other activities, faces criminal charges in the United States after fleeing last year first to Hong Kong and then Russia.
The former National Security Agency contractor was nominated for the post by a group of students at the university – one of Britain’s oldest – after receiving Snowden’s approval through his lawyer.
University officials said the computer analyst beat three other candidates in an online vote that attracted a record turnout to win the three-year role of rector at the university, which dates back to 1451. Snowden defeated former champion cyclist Graeme Obree, author Alan Bissett and a local vicar.
The rector, holding a largely symbolic role, is meant to represent student issues to university officials but it has previously served a political designation, having been held by Winnie Mandela in 1987 and Israeli nuclear power whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu in 2005.
The current holder of the post is former Liberal Democrat party leader Charles Kennedy.
Glasgow students had earlier said they contacted Snowden through his lawyers and he agreed to stand for the job.
Chris Cassells, Snowden’s spokesman for the campaign, said Glasgow University had a “proud and virtuous tradition” of making significant statements through its rectors.
“Today we have once more championed this idea by proving to the world that we are not apathetic to important issues such as democratic rights,” Cassells said in a statement.
Students at the institution say that they nominated Snowden to make a statement about democratic rights. “We showed Edward Snowden and other brave whistle-blowers that we stand in solidarity with them, regardless of where they are,” they said in a statement.
It added: “Our opposition to pervasive and immoral state intrusion has gone down in the records.”
Snowden, in a statement to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, said he was “humbled and honoured” by the vote, describing it as a bold and historic decision in support of academic freedom.
“In a world where so many of our developing thoughts and queries and plans must be entrusted to the open internet, mass surveillance is not simply a matter of privacy, but of academic freedom and human liberty,” Snowden said.
Given that Britain has an extradition treaty with the United States, where Snowden is wanted on criminal charges, it is most unlikely that he would choose to come.
With additional reporting from AP and AFP