US National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden on Tuesday submitted a request for temporary asylum in Russia, his lawyer said, claiming he faces persecution from the US government and could face torture or death.
WikiLeaks, the secret-spilling site that has been advising Snowden, and Russia’s Federal Migration Service both confirmed the application request. The service is required by law to consider the application within three months, but could do it faster.
Snowden, who revealed details of a US program to monitor Internet activity, said in his application that the reason he needs asylum is “he faces persecution by the US government and he fears for his life and safety, fears that he could be subjected to torture and capital punishment,” lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said on Rossiya 24 television.
Kucherena told reporters that he met the former NSA analyst in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport to give him legal advice and that Snowden made the request after the meeting.
Snowden has been stuck there since he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23. He has had offers of asylum from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, but because his US passport has been revoked, the logistics of reaching whichever country he chooses are complicated.
He said on Friday at an airport meeting with Russian rights activists and public figures that he would seek at least temporary refuge in Russia until he could fly to one of the Latin American nations that have offered him asylum.
The temporary asylum would allow Snowden to freely travel and work in Russia, Kucherena said. He chose to apply for temporary asylum and not political asylum because the latter takes longer to consider.
Kucherena said Snowden had no immediate plans to leave Russia. Russian law says temporary asylum is provided for one year and can be extended each year.
Snowden’s stay in Russia has strained already chilly relations between Moscow and Washington. Granting him asylum would further aggravate tensions with the US less than two months before Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama are to meet in Moscow and again at the G20 summit in St Petersburg.
Putin on Monday described Snowden’s arrival as an unwelcome present foisted on Russia by the US. He said Snowden flew to Moscow intending only to transit to another country, but after the US intimidated other countries into refusing to accept him, the fugitive was blocked from flying further.
Snowden had previously sought Russian asylum, which Putin said would be granted only if he agreed not to leak more information. Snowden then withdrew the bid, the Kremlin said.
During Friday’s meeting in the transit zone, Snowden said he had not hurt US interests in the past and has no intention of doing so. Putin did not say on Monday if that would be sufficient grounds for asylum.
According to the Interfax news agency, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said that while Snowden voiced his agreement with Putin’s condition, he has made “no confirmation of that in writing.”
Putin said that Snowden apparently did not want to stay in Russia permanently. Asked where the former NSA systems analyst could go, Putin responded: “How would I know? It’s his life, his fate.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said he was unaware of any communications between the US and Russian government about Snowden on Tuesday.
“Our position on this remains what it was,” he said. “Our interest has always been in seeing him expelled from Russia and returned to the United States.”