MOSCOW -- About a dozen Russian human rights activists, lawyers and political figures were ushered into a section of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport on Friday to meet with Edward Snowden, the leaker of U.S. National Security Agency secrets.
Snowden is believed to have been stuck in the airport’s transit zone since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23, as he negotiates for asylum in another country.
The activists included Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International’s Russia office, and Tatiana Lokshina, deputy head of the Russian office of Human Rights Watch. Also taken into the meeting room were Russia’s presidential human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, prominent attorney Genri Reznik, and Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Russian parliament’s education committee.
They came after an email in Snowden’s name was sent on Thursday. On Facebook, Lokshina posted the text of the email, which says in part that Snowden wants to make “a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation.”
Hundreds of journalists flocked to the airport, but were kept in a hallway outside the meeting area which is behind a gray door marked “staff only.” It was not clear if Snowden would have to come out that door or if he could exit by another route.
The text of the invitation does not directly address the offers of asylum that Snowden has received from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, though it expresses gratitude for asylum offers and says “I hope to travel to each of them.” It accuses the United States of “an unlawful campaign ... to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum.”
Reznik said before the meeting that he expected Snowden called for it in order to seek asylum in Russia.
Snowden made an earlier application for Russian asylum. But Russian President Vladimir Putin said asylum would be conditional on Snowden stopping leaking U.S. secrets; Snowden then withdrew his asylum bid, Russian officials said.
How much the human rights organizations could influence a Russian asylum bid or other aspects of Snowden’s dilemma is unclear. Putin takes a dim view of non-governmental organizations’ involvement in political matters.
But an appeal by Snowden to internationally respected groups could boost his status and give Russia a pretext for reconsidering asylum.
Snowden has not been seen in public since arriving in Moscow from Hong Kong, where he had fled before his leaks about American Internet surveillance were made public. Russia has said it cannot extradite him because by remaining in the transit zone he is technically outside Russian territory.
Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have said they would be willing to grant asylum to Snowden. But it is unclear if Snowden could fly from Moscow to any of those countries without passing through the airspace of the United States or allied countries.
Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.