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German Justice Minister roundly criticised for saying Edward Snowden should return to the US

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German Justice Minister Heiko Maas

In an interview published on Tuesday by the German press agency dpa, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas suggested that Edward Snowden’s best option would be to return to the US to face trial:

He is only in his early thirties and would definitely not want to spend the rest of his life being chased around the world or applying for one asylum after another.

Maas’ statement has been roundly criticised in Germany, where a majority of the population is in favour of granting Edward Snowden asylum. Opposition politicians, who are trying to arrange for Edward Snowden to testify to the ongoing Bundestag Committee of Inquiry into surveillance, have deemed Maas’ intervention as “cynical.” The German government has gone to considerable lengths to frustrate the desire of the Bundestag committee to receive Edward Snowden as a witness and the matter is likely to be challenged in Germany’s constitutional court.

Reporters Without Borders has also been highly critical of Maas’ comments, stating that “it is vital that Snowden is invited to Berlin in order to testify in front of the Bundestag’s  investigative committee as its most important witness.”

Michael Rediske, Spokesperson of the Executive Board of Reporters Without Borders Germany said:

Rather than advising Edward Snowden to return to the USA and to turn himself over to the US authorities facing several years of imprisonment, Minister of Justice Maas should advocate for the federal government to provide a secure residence authorisation for Snowden. It is a scandal that Snowden has to live in a country like Russia where freedom of expression is badly violated and where the authorities keep the telecommunication and the use of the internet of its own citizens under surveillance with the spying program Sorm.

Edward Snowden’s year of temporary asylum in Russia expires this week. He faces three charges in the United States, including two under the 1917 Espionage Act, which does not allow defendants to make a public interest defence. Edward Snowden himself has addressed the problems of facing a fair trial in the US on numerous occasions:

It’s a fair question: why doesn’t he face charges? But it’s also uninformed because what has been laid against me are not normal charges, they’re extraordinary charges… The Espionage Act provides anyone accused under it no chance to make a public defence. You are not allowed to argue based on all the evidence in your favour because that evidence may be classified, even if it’s exculpatory.

Negotiations between Edward Snowden’s legal team and the US government were opened in the summer of 2013. As Wolfgang Kaleck, Edward Snowden’s lawyer in Germany, said at Courage’s launch event in June “so far, these talks haven’t shown any results” although Snowden and his legal team “still think it make sense to talk to the US government” so eventually, when the conditions are right, he can return.

In the meantime, Courage has been campaigning for an extension of Edward Snowden’s asylum status, be that in Russia or elsewhere. Edward Snowden will need the protection of asylee status for the forseeable future: and, if a recent statement of NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett is any guide, the chances of an agreement with the US may even be receding.