MOSCOW -- Some 20 days after his arrival in Russia, U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden on Friday attracted hundreds of journalists again to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he met human rights activists, lawyers and lawmakers to seek asylum in the country.
Three hours before the closed-door meeting at Terminal F of the airport, more than a dozen journalists were already there, busy in preparing their vidicons to catch any possible meeting participants dropping by. Journalists circled Genry Reznik, a famous Russian lawyer who was invited to the meeting, when the latter first appeared in the hall at around 14:20 p.m. GMT. Photographers who failed to catch a close-up shot of him turned to a nearby up-going elevator, carefully hopping downward so as to keep themselves in proper shooting positions.X Several journalists, briskly walking backwards in front of the participants, stumbled over photographic equipment scattering around the hall.
In later hours, more journalists from local or foreign media flocked to the terminal and stampeded towards a guarded metal gate, behind which Snowden was reading an announcement asking again for political asylum in Russia. The former CIA contractor, has formally expressed his intention to apply for political asylum in Russia via this meeting, Russian lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters after meeting the stranded whistleblower. Snowden has accepted the Kremlin’s condition that he must stop damaging U.S. interests if he wants to stay in Russia, Nikonov said. The whistleblower said “he can easily accept it and does not intend to damage the U.S. interests given that he is a patriot of his country,” Nikonov told reporters.
Several other participants in the closed-door talks in the transit zone of the airport confirmed Nikonov’s remarks. Snowden issued a similar request earlier in the month but withdrew it a day later on the ground that he could not accept a precondition by Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a recent visit to Finland that the condition for granting asylum to Snowden was that he “stops anti-U.S. activities.” Wearing a grey shirt, Snowden said, in a video released by one of the participants, that he was satisfied with his stay at the airport, but was annoyed by the restriction of freedom of movement as he has no Russian visa and his passport was revoked.
The 30-year-old man stopped and chuckled when the airport public address system went off, saying he had heard it many, many times. A group of tourists from the United States, mostly at their 60s, happened to check out and were somehow stunned at cameras locking at them. “I think he (Snowden) should go back to America and receive the trials,” a lady with neatly trimmed grey hair told Xinhua, adding Americans took diverse approaches on this issue. She declined to be named. Snowden, who arrived at the airport on June 23 and was never seen since then, was charged by the U.S. government with three felonies, including two under the Espionage Act, after disclosing a highly classified surveillance project code-named PRISM.
Tatyana Lokshina, a Human Rights Watch representative attending the meeting, told Xinhua that on her way to the airport, she received a phone call from U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul. “He stated the U.S. authorities’ stance and wanted me to air it, that is, Snowden is a criminal and he should be held accountable in America,” Lokshina said. “I told the ambassador that our organization does not see the reasons for Snowden to be prosecuted as he has acted in the public interests,” she added. Journalists haunting outside the meeting room got no chance to see Snowden personally till the end, but his fresh appearance dispersed weeks-old suspicions that he may have left Russia. Meanwhile, the personal annoyance and restriction of free movement Snowden faced was unlikely to see an end shortly as it “would take a couple of weeks” for the Russian side to nail it down, experts said.