MOSCOW — Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor on the run from US authorities, formally applied Tuesday for temporary asylum in Russia, citing fears that he could face torture or the death penalty if extradited to the United States, according to a Russian official who assisted in preparing the documents.
Snowden, whose leak of National Security Agency information has set off a worldwide debate over the US government’s surveillance programs, has not been accused of a capital crime and does not face the death penalty. His stated fears, whatever their merit, will help him to meet requirements for asylum in Russia.
President Vladimir Putin has said he would consider allowing Snowden to stay in Russia, provided that he “cease his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners.” Putin reiterated that offer Monday while meeting with science students, but he said that Snowden had initially refused and that the situation remained uncertain. Snowden has said he does not believe his leaks have harmed US interests.
The formal submission of the asylum application seemed to clear matters — at least for the moment — and suggested that the end of Snowden’s sojourn at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, where he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23, might finally be in sight.
WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy organization that has been assisting Snowden, posted a message on Twitter confirming the submission of his asylum application.
a decision for russia
During a meeting Friday with human rights advocates and lawyers, Snowden said he would request temporary shelter in Russia, but that he ultimately planned to travel to Latin America, where three countries have expressed a willingness to take him. He accused the United States of violating international law by blocking him from traveling there straight away.
Anatoly Kucherena, a rights advocate who has worked closely with the Kremlin and was one of the officials to meet with Snowden on Friday, told the Rossiya 24 television station he had helped Snowden prepare the documents and had delivered them to the Federal Migration Service, which handles such requests.
The Kremlin did not offer an immediate assessment of Snowden’s chances. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told Russian news agencies the Migration Service was handling the application. He said Putin, who was traveling in the Far East and Siberia on Tuesday, was focused on domestic issues.
Federal prosecutors in Virginia have charged Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and also with stealing government property — each charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a total of 30 years.
But Snowden and his supporters in and outside of Russia have cited the existence of the death penalty in the United States as a reason he should not be extradited, noting that US officials have said he could face additional charges.