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Article 19: Letter to Obama to stop the prosecution of Snowden

Originally posted 6 August 2013 on the Article 19 website

Dear President Obama,

We are writing to you as free speech and media freedom organisations from around the world to express our strong concern over the response of the US government to the actions of whistleblower Edward Snowden. We urge you to take immediate action to protect whistleblowers and journalists.

Edward Snowden’s recent disclosures have triggered a necessary and long-delayed public debate about the acceptable boundaries of surveillance in a democratic country, a debate that on 5 June you welcomed having. The revelations brought into question the legitimacy of the secretive process of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and closed Congressional intelligence committees as appropriate forums to determine the fundamental human rights of Americans and persons worldwide. The disclosures have clearly served the public interest, including by prompting similar debates in countries around the world.


We are, therefore, dismayed that criminal charges have been filed against Snowden, including those under the vague and overbroad Espionage Act of 1917. Statements by the State Department that Snowden is not a whistleblower simply because of the nature of the charges against him flatly contradict international standards on freedom of expression and information. Attempts to obstruct Snowden’s freedom of movement, his right to seek asylum, including the revocation of his passport, and other forms of retaliation also violate US obligations under international law.

Moreover, we are concerned that the charges against Snowden are not an isolated incident, and that there have been an unprecedented number of prosecutions against whistleblowers during your administration, as well as intrusive investigations to identify the sources of journalists reporting on matters that are in the public interest. This tendency of the US government towards obsessively controlling information flows and an aversion to public discourse is both undemocratic and unsustainable in the digital era.

Taken together, we find that these actions have set a dangerous precedent for the protection of whistleblowers and journalists worldwide. As you are aware, whistleblowers often face criminal charges when they reveal information that causes acute embarrassment to governments, to distract from the wrongdoing revealed. Similarly, journalists are also attacked for publishing the disclosed information. We are seriously concerned that governments will rely on the US example to justify attacks on whistleblowers and journalists who put themselves at significant risk to expose or report government wrongdoing, corruption, or other dangers to society.

The US has a long history of recognising the important role whistleblowers play in democracy, going back to Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Law, the False Claims Act. While the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 built upon these protections, they specifically exclude protections for public interest disclosures of national security or intelligence information. While the recent Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-19 on “Protecting Whistleblowers with Access to Classified Information” and Attorney-General Eric Holder’s guidance on protecting reporters’ privilege are both positive, as policy they are not binding law and provide no legal protection or remedy for whistleblowers or journalists seeking to defend information disclosures. Greater legal protections in this area are therefore needed.

We call on your administration to take the following actions:

  • Drop the charges with prejudice against Edward Snowden
  • Immediately reinstate Edward Snowden’s passport and cease attempts to obstruct his right to seek asylum in any country of his choice
  • Initiate an executive public consultation on the activities of the National Security Agency
  • Instruct the Justice Department to declassify and make public all orders issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, upon their completion
  • Commit to seeking the adoption through Congress of an extension of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and the reform of the Espionage Act to ensure there are appropriate and legally binding protections for whistleblowers disclosing national security and intelligence information
  • Continue to support the adoption by Congress of a strong and robust “media shield law” with narrow exemptions for national security information.

Yours sincerely,

  1. ARTICLE 19 (International)
  2. ACCUN – Tunisian Digital Culture (Tunisia)
  3. ActiveWatch (Romania)
  4. Afghanistan Journalists Center (Afghanistan)
  5. Africa Freedom of Information Centre (Uganda)
  6. Ain-O-Shalish Kendra (Bangladesh)
  7. Albanian Helsinki Committee (Albania)
  8. Albanian Media Institute (Albania)
  9. Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (Indonesia)
  10. Alliance National Timor Leste for International Tribunal (ANTI) (Timor Leste)
  11. Alternative Informatics Association (Turkey)
  12. ANDI – Communication and Rights (Brazil)
  13. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) (Asia)
  14. Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles (Argentina)
  15. Associação Brasileira de Centros de Inclusão Digital – ABCID (Brazil)
  16. Association “Yakadha” for democracy and Civil State (Tunisia)
  17. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (Egypt)
  18. Association for Progressive Communications (International)
  19. Association of Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement (Ukraine)
  20. ATL MST/SIDA (Tunisia)
  21. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (Bahrain)
  22. Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (Kosovo)
  23. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) (India)
  24. Bolo Bhi (Pakistan)
  25. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Bulgaria)
  26. Burma Partnership (Burma)
  27. Bytes for All (Pakistan)
  28. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) (Cambodia)
  29. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (Canada)
  30. Cartoonists Rights Network International (International)
  31. Catalan PEN (Spain)
  32. Center for Development and Democratization of Institutions (Albania)
  33. Center for Independent Journalism (Romania)
  34. Center for National and International Studies (Azerbaijan)
  35. Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
  36. Centre for Independent Journalism (Malaysia)
  37. Centre for Internet and Society (India)
  38. Centre for Law and Democracy (Canada)
  39. Centre for Participatory Research and Development (Bangladesh)
  40. Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública (Uruguay)
  41. Centro de Cultura Luiz Freire (Brazil)
  42. Centro de Estudos da Mídia Alternativa Barão de Itararé (Brazil)
  43. Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (CERIGUA) (Guatemala)
  44. Centro Internacional de Estudios Superiores de Comunicación para América Latina (CIESPAL) (Ecuador)
  45. Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (Mexico)
  46. ChangeMaker (Bangladesh)
  47. Christian Media Network (South Korea)
  48. Civil Coalition for the Defence of Freedom of Expression (Tunisia)
  49. COAST (Bangladesh)
  50. Computer professionals for peace and social responsibility (FIfF) (Germany)
  51. Derechos Digitales (Chile)
  52. Digitalcourage e.V. (Germany)
  53. Electronic Frontier Finland (Finland)
  54. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) (USA)
  55. English PEN (UK)
  56. Equity BD (Bangladesh)
  57. Finnish PEN (Finland)
  58. Föreningen för Digitala Fri- och Rättigheter (Sweden)
  59. Foro de Periodismo Argentino (Argentina)
  60. Foundation for Regional Initiatives (Ukraine)
  61. Freedom of information and expression – Marroco (Morocco)
  62. Freedom of the Press Foundation (USA)
  63. Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (Foundation for Press Freedom) (Colombia)
  64. Gambia Press Union
  65. German PEN Centre (Germany)
  66. Globe International Center (Mongolia)
  67. Government Accountability Project (GAP) (USA)
  68. GPOPAI – Grupo de Pesquisa em Políticas Públicas para o Acesso à Informação da Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil)
  69. Grupo Medios y Sociedad (GMS) (Uruguay)
  70. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor (Armenia)
  71. Helsinki committee of Armenia (Armenia)
  72. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
  73. Hong Kong Journalists Association (Hong Kong)
  74. Human Rights Center (Uganda)
  75. Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan)
  76. Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan)
  77. Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania)
  78. Human Rights Network for Journalists (Uganda)
  79. Imparsial- The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Indonesia)
  80. Independent Journalism Center (Moldova)
  81. Index on Censorship (UK)
  82. Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) (Indonesia)
  83. Initiative for Freedom of Expression (Turkey)
  84. INSEC- Informal Sector Service Center (Nepal)
  85. Institute for Contemporary Social and Political Studies (Slovenia)
  86. Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (Indonesia)
  87. Institute of Mass Information (Ukraine)
  88. Instituto Bem-Estar Brasil (Brazil)
  89. International Youth Human Rights Movement (Russia)
  90. Intervozes (Brazil)
  91. IPHR – International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)
  92. Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association (Iraq)
  93. IT-Politisk Forening (Denmark)
  94. Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP) (Timor Leste)
  95. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (Kazakhstan)
  96. KontraS (Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence) (Indonesia)
  97. KRF Public Alternative (Ukraine)
  98. La Quadrature du Net (France)
  99. Law and Society Trust (LST) (Sri Lanka)
  100. Law, Internet and Society Nucleous – University of São Paulo (Brazil)
  101. MADA Center (Palestine)
  102. Mass Media Defence Centre (Russia)
  103. Media Defence – Southeast Asia (MDSEA) (Asia)
  104. Media Institute of Southern Africa (South Africa)
  105. Media Rights Agenda (Nigeria)
  106. Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (Australia)
  107. Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia)
  108. National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) (Somalia)
  109. National Union of Tunisian Journalists SNJT (Tunisia)
  110. New Zealand PEN Centre (New Zealand)
  111. Nigeria Union of Journalists
  112. Norwegian PEN (Norway)
  113. Notabene (Tajikistan)
  114. Odhikar (Bangladesh)
  115. Open Rights Group (UK)
  116. Pakistan Press Foundation (Pakistan)
  117. Panoptykon Foundation (Poland)
  118. Panos Eastern Africa (East Africa)
  119. Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (Nigeria)
  120. PEN Canada (Canada)
  121. PEN Center USA (USA)
  122. PEN International (International)
  123. PEN International’s Swiss Romand Center (Switzerland)
  124. PEN Melbourne (Australia)
  125. PEN Palestine (Palestine)
  126. PEN Turkey Centre (Turkey)
  127. People in Need (Czech Republic)
  128. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (Center for Whistleblowers Support) (South Korea)
  129. People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) (India)
  130. Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo (PIDHDD) (Ecuador)
  131. Portuguese PEN Centre (Portugal)
  132. Press Union and Audiovisual of Djibouti (SPAD) (Djibouti)
  133. Privacy International (International)
  134. Pro Media (Macedonia)
  135. Public Association “Journalists” (Kyrgyzstan)
  136. Reporters Without Borders (France)
  137. Russian PEN (Russia)
  138. Samoa Observer (Samoa)
  139. Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) (Canada)
  140. San Miguel PEN Center (Mexico)
  141. Scottish PEN (UK)
  142. SonTusDatos (Mexico)
  143. South African PEN Centre (South Africa)
  144. South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (Europe)
  145. SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia) (Malaysia)
  146. Swiss German PEN Center (Switzerland)
  147. Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) (Taiwan)
  148. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition (Tanzania)
  149. The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (Azerbaijan)
  150. Think Centre (Singapore)
  151. Tunis Centre for Freedom of the Press (Tunisia)
  152. Tunisian Engineers Council (Tunisia)
  153. Tunisian Association of Women Lawyers (Tunisia)
  154. Tunisian Union of Free Radios STRL (Tunisia)
  155. Uganda Journalists Union (Uganda)
  156. Union of Independent Newspapers (Tunisia)
  157. Vrijschrift (Netherlands)
  158. West African Journalists Association (West Africa)
  159. World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) (International)
  160. Associação Nacional para o Software Livre (Portugal)