On October 22, the Russian government granted American whistleblower Edward Snowden an open-ended residence permit, according to Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena. The permit gives Snowden permanent residency rights, allowing him to avoid returning to the United States where he faces criminal charges for violating the Espionage Act.
Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency, fled the United States in 2013 when he leaked information detailing extensive domestic and international surveillance operations of U.S. intelligence agencies. After fleeing the U.S. Snowden sought asylum in a number of countries, including Russia. In 2014, Snowden received a Russian residence permit valid for three years, which was later extended for another three years. Snowden’s residence permit was set to expire this year and he first filed an application for an open-ended residence permit in April. However, his application was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Kucherena, Snowden will decide himself whether or not to apply for Russian citizenship. In the past, Snowden has expressed a desire to return home to the United States, but that he will only do so once the case against him is closed.
The Espionage Act was passed in 1917 in the midst of World War I. Whistleblower advocates have long decried the law as a draconian measure which, they argue, was never used to prosecute spies but instead used to suppress dissent. The Act broadly prohibits the publication of information related to national security, which may cause an “injury to the United States.” According to Stephen M. Kohn, whistleblower attorney, Chairman of the Board of the National Whistleblower Center, and author of American Political Prisoners : Prosecutions Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, “in 1917 the courts bent over backwards to permit the justice department to indict and prosecute thousands of dissidents. Loyalty to America meant nothing. The first amendment’s protections for freedom of speech were mocked.” He further explains that “there are responsible mechanisms policing truly abusive leaks. The Espionage Act is not such a tool.”
In August, President Trump announced he would look into pardoning Snowden. Trump noted that members of his staff were divided on the issue, however, saying that “many people think he should be somehow treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things.”