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Activists Launch Campaign Urging Obama To Pardon Edward Snowden


Give Edward Snowden a pardon. That is what a group of human rights organizations are calling on President Obama to do. Activists and lawyers held a news conference today to kick off a campaign to support Snowden. The former National Security Agency contractor fled the country three years ago with a trove of top-secret data from the National Security Agency.

While Snowden's revelations have sparked outrage and reforms, the government still wants him tried under the Espionage Act. NPR's David Welna reports on today's news conference.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Human Rights Watch was there. Amnesty International was there. So was Anthony Romero, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union. He told reporters in New York that Edward Snowden had acted patriotically, responsibly and with courage and deserves a presidential pardon.


ANTHONY ROMERO: We're not arguing that Edward Snowden did not break the law. The pardon power exists for people who did break the law but where there are mitigating circumstances that outweigh the case for punishment.

WELNA: Romero argued that by leaking to just a few reporters the details of the NSA's previously unknown collection of American's phone data, Snowden had acted as a whistleblower and had done so purely in the public interest.


ROMERO: A pardon for Edward Snowden would be good for America and would help burnish the president's legacy as one of the primary defenders of human rights. Pardoning Snowden would be a powerful way for the president to acknowledge that the government did wrong, kept us in the dark, acted unconstitutionally. And but for the actions of Edward Snowden, we would still be in a very dark place.

WELNA: Snowden himself appeared at the news conference via video link from Russia where he's been living in exile for more than three years. He thanked the activists for pressing for a pardon but did not specifically ask for one himself.


EDWARD SNOWDEN: The question of whether I as a whistleblower should be pardoned is not for me to answer. But I will say this. I love my country. I love my family. And I have dedicated my life to both of them.

WELNA: If he returns to the U.S., Snowden could face up to 30 years in prison, but he said he could not get a fair trial under the World War I-era Espionage Act since it would not recognize what he maintained were his actions as a whistleblower.


SNOWDEN: My concern here is not just myself. If I and other whistleblowers are sentenced to long years in prison without so much as 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 abuse and overreach. It will chill speech. It will corrode the quality of our democracy.

WELNA: Even some of Snowden's critics say he touched off a necessary public examination of the NSA's practices. Here's former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder in May on the podcast "The Axe Files."


ERIC HOLDER: I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made.

WELNA: But when asked this week about a pardon for Snowden, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest gave no indication one might be in the works.


JOSH EARNEST: There's a process that people can go through in requesting a pardon. But right now Mr. Snowden has not been convicted of crimes with regard to this particular situation, but he's charged with serious crimes. And it's the view of the administration and certainly the view of the president that he should return to the United States and face those charges.

WELNA: Snowden supporters hope a new Oliver Stone biopic titled "Snowden" coming out this week will help build pressure for a pardon. And what does Snowden himself think?


SNOWDEN: I think the most important impact of the film will be to reach a new audience on the topic of actually the issues that matter the most.

WELNA: Meanwhile Snowden's visa in Russia will expire in August. David Welna, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.