Edward Snowden took his case to the media Wednesday arguing a presidential pardon would be an important step in preserving democracy and his only hope in returning to the United States. He argued that under the current Espionage Act, future whistleblowers would be less inclined to come forward to expose government abuses of power.
“Today whistleblowing is democracy’s safeguard of last resort. The one upon which we all rely when all other checks and balances have failed and when the public has no idea of what is going on behind closed doors,” Snowden told a group of reporters in New York via a video feed from Russia.
His remarks were part of a kick-off for an official campaign to ask President Barack Obama to issue a pardon for the former contractor for the National Security Agency. Spearheading the official Pardon Snowden campaign effort is human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with free speech advocate American Civil Liberties Union.
“My concern is not just for myself,” Snowden said. “If I and other whistleblowers who are sentenced to long years in prison without a so much of a chance to explain our motivations to a jury, it will have a deeply chilling effect on future whistleblowers working, as I did, to expose government overreach and abuse. It will chill speech and it will corrode the quality of our democracy.”
Snowden faces at least 30 years in jail for violating the Espionage Act. In 2013 Snowden leaked thousands classified documents about top-secret surveillance programs to journalists that shed light on U.S. spying efforts. Snowden and his supporters argue that his actions fundamentally altered the public’s understanding of privacy in this digital age of and led to many legislative reforms.
Snowden argued that under the Espionage Act it is not possible to receive a fair trial.
“The Espionage Act does not permit public interest or whistle-blower defense. Those charged by it are silenced… They are prohibited from their right to tell the jury why they acted in their beliefs to protect the constitution for the public interest.”
The groups behind the Pardon Snowden campaign admit the odds are against them when it comes to the likelihood of an Obama pardon, but they hope that the current campaign and the launch of Oliver Stone’s feature film about Snowden will raise public awareness.
The PardonSnowden.org website is seeking 60,000 signatures to “let President Obama know that the American people stand with Snowden.” The site is being hosted by the ACLU, which has signed on as Snowden’s legal adviser.
The ACLU says it has already collected signatures from luminaries like Bruce Ackerman, Lawrence Lessig, Jimmy Wales, Steve Wozniak and Esther Dyson.