The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks has said Edward Snowden, the US whistleblower who leaked National Security Agency surveillance programme, is seeking asylum in 20 countries.
The group which has adopted Snowden and his cause said on its website that WikiLeaks legal adviser Sarah Harrison delivered the requests for asylum to an official at the Russian consulate at the Moscow airport on Sunday.
Snowden has applied for political asylum in 20 countries, including India, China, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, Wikileaks has said.
A Russian government spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that Snowden, who is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, withdrew his request for asylum in Russia after President Vladimir Putin said he was not welcome unless he stopped harming US interests.
Venezuela said it had not yet received Snowden’s request but President Nicolas Maduro said the whistleblower deserved the “world’s protection”.
Meanwhile, India, Norway, Finland, Austria, and Poland confirmed that they had received Snowden’s request on Tuesday.
But Poland’s foreign minister said he would not recommend granting a request.
“We received a document that does not meet the requirements for a formal application for asylum,” Radoslaw Sikorski wrote on his Twitter account. “Even if it did, I will not give a positive recommendation.”
A Finnish foreign ministry spokeswoman said Finland could not accept Snowden’s application as Finnish law required him to be in the country.
Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told the Austria Press Agency that Snowden would need to submit such a request directly in Austria but would not be deported if he arrived in Austria because “there is no international arrest warrant”.
A spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry said the Indian Embassy in Moscow did receive the application but “see no reason to accede to the Snowden request” after careful consideration.
The devolopments came as Snowden broke his silence for the first time since fleeing to Moscow and insisted he was free to make new disclosures about US spying activity.
In a letter to Ecuador seen by the Reuters news agency, Snowden on Monday said the United States was illegally persecuting him for revealing its electronic surveillance programme, PRISM, but made it clear he did not intend to be muzzled.
“I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest,” he said in the undated letter in Spanish sent to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.
“No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world. If any of those days ahead realise a contribution to the common good, the world will have the principles of Ecuador to thank.”
I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest Edward Snowden,
Snowden poured scorn on the US government and accused it of waging an “extrajudicial man-hunt” against him.
“While the public has cried out support of my shining a light on this secret system of injustice, the Government of the United States of America responded with an extrajudicial man-hunt costing me my family, my freedom to travel, and my right to live peacefully without fear of illegal aggression,” he wrote.
Putin, speaking eight days after Snowden landed in Moscow, repeated that Russia had no intention of handing him over to the US, where he faces espionage charges.
“Russia has never given up anyone to anybody and does not plan to. And nobody ever gave anyone up to us,” Putin said.
“If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners, as strange as that sounds coming from my lips,” he told reporters after a gas exporters’ conference in Moscow.
But Putin said he suspected that Snowden would not stop leaking information, because “he feels himself to be a human rights activist”.
“So he must choose a country of destination and go there,” he said, speaking before the asylum request to Russia was reported. “Unfortunately, I don’t know when this will happen.”
Correa said on Sunday that Snowden’s fate was in Russia’s hands because Ecuador could not consider the plea until he reached Ecuador or one of its embassies.
Ecuador granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum at its embassy in London where he has been holed up for more than a year, fighting extradition to Sweden over sexual assault charges.
Shortly after Snowden fled the US to Hong Kong last month and long before he arrived in Russia, Putin suggested the surveillance methods he revealed were justified for national interests, if carried out lawfully.
Obama, at a news conference in Tanzania dominated by the EU controversy, repeated that the US was working through law enforcement channels to prod Russia to extradite Snowden.
Obama said there had been “high-level discussions with the Russians about trying to find a solution to the problem”.