A Swedish asylum for Snowden in the context of the ‘Assange case’

Published in Sweden VS Assange – Human Rights Issues, chapter “Why Sweden should consider asylum to Edward Snowden“. Libertarian Books, Sweden, 2014. Pages 336 – 341.

Edward Snowden received the Swedish award Right Livelihoods on the 1st of December 2014. While the conspicuous public attending the ceremony stands applauding him, Snowden thanks the award in a video speech direct linked from Russia. There Snowden said that he wished to come to Sweden. Why not giving him political asylum?

snowden diplome nobel

stående ovationerA positive statement by the Swedish authorities on that Sweden would consider asylum for Mr Snowden, will help the world to better understand the real libertarian and independent spirit of the Swedish people – an aspect that has been sadly obscured in most recent years due to the abandonment by Swedish authorities of the traditional non-aligned stance of the nation. Also, it will help stimulate anew dialogue to resolve the issues at stake and that have thrown a shadow over our sovereignty, such as the management of the case against Mr Assange. Beyond the alleged case of Sweden vs. Assange, or the alleged irregularities of the case, the issue for Sweden is ultimately the question of self-government and of whether Sweden can regain – as many of us dearly wish – the world podium of No. 1 country in fairness and justice, in political beauty and respect for human rights to all.

By Prof. Marcello Ferrada de Noli

snowden ill tilllsv

  • Introduction
  • The travel-document argument
  • The shortest distance and secure-route argument
  • Possible arguments against my proposal
  • A Swedish asylum for Snowden in the context of the Assange case


World opinion is already on the side of Mr Edward Snowden, who is currently a refugee in an International airport, deprived of his national passport, and due to exposing massive spying by the U.S. on friend and foe alike. I understand that one of the problems faced by Mr Snowden – in case he would try to implement the asylum granted by Venezuela – is the need of a travel-document. Another reported problem would be the long and allegedly insecure route. Further, if Mr Snowden would be unable to take up asylum in Latin America, and thus forced to accept asylum in Russia, he will be bound of not declaring any thing that could be considered detrimental, as “to harm” the U.S. Certainly, Mr Snowden’s endeavour has never been “to harm” his country intentionally. He just exposed the fashion in which – in my opinion – the U.S. government it does harm the privacy and personal integrity of the core of his country – the citizens. Not to mention EU, Asia and Latin-American institutions and peoples, who have also been treated as enemies via this massive indiscriminate spying. Nevertheless, the question is also, is the shelter offered by Russia worth the cost- being banned from revealing further information?

When Sweden gave me political asylum after my revelations at the Russell Tribunal on Latin America in Rome 1974, they never put any condition on that I would have to promise stop the whistleblowing on Pinochet’s Junta or about the aggravating role of the U.S. in the military coup.

As discussed below, stateless refugees have the right to the Alien’s passport that can be issued by any country signatory of the 1954 Geneva Convention (1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons). I have learned, however, that Venezuela is not a signatory of such document. But Sweden is. Secondly, The considerably shorter route between Russia and Sweden also makes that option immediately attractive.


States parties and signatories to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. States parties are dark blue; non-states parties signatories are light blue; non-state parties non-signatories are grey (Wikimedia Commons)

Sweden has a notable tradition – in fact historical – in providing asylum for political and/or humanitarian reasons from the 60´s and onwards. Unfortunate episodes in which some officials, at some politician’s orders, have done otherwise, should not supplant facts at large. For instance, during the Vietnam-War era, Sweden was a refuge for American “vapenvägrare [conscientious objectors]” (a fact which is not well known by younger generations outside Sweden); the list of historical episodes in which Swedish diplomats have, at the highest personal risk, helped political dissidents or ethnic-persecuted peoples and brought them into Swedish territory is also notable. The most well known examples are, of course, those of R. Wallenberg and, more recently, Ambassador Edelstam in Chile.

This appeal is totally personal, of my own initiative, and has no bound to any organization or individuals engaged internationally in their noble struggle for asylum of Mr Snowden. My expectations declared here are based solely in my experience as political refugee in Sweden.

The travel-document argument

One main problem that Mr Snowden is having, as I have understood, is that a) he has partly been deprived of his U.S. passport, and b) the safe-conduct (transit-pass) issued by the Consul of Ecuador in London is not any longer valid. This below is based in my Swedish experience.

I remember vividly when the Pinochet government revoked my constitutional right of renewing my passport, making me stateless, after my testimony at the Russel Tribunal in Rome 1974 exposing the killings, torture and horrible crimes perpetrated by the Junta in the Prisoners Camp in which I have been confined.  Helped by lawyer Hans Göran Frank (one of the founders of Amnesty International Sweden), I obtained political asylum and a främnlingpass (alien’s passport) according to the Geneva-Convention in a matter of weeks. While researching in this case, I saw that the Immigration authority is now providing extensive information about this possibility (here explained in English).

Unlike many other countries, for instance countries of Latin America, Sweden has not made it (in absolute terms) compulsory for the refugee applying for asylum to produce travel documents at the border. I have read, and heard, of migrants – allegedly political persecuted – that are admitted to the country although reporting their travel documents were lost during a long travel, not-seldom amid a smuggling endeavour. Another indication of this irregularity is the significant category “papperlösa” [paperless] amongst the immigrants or refugees in Sweden. It is mainly referred to immigrants whose residence-applications have not been approved by the Immigration Authority, and thus they go underground. However, the “paperless” immigrants have in Sweden right to certain social welfare, such as emergency ward at public hospitals. Here we have also to distinguish between the possession of travel-documents (such as a national passport, or Geneva-Convention aliens’ passport – främling pass), and the understandable need of verifying the individual’s identity. In this sense, the situation for Mr Snowden is quite more favourable (he does not have travel papers but his identity is fully verifiable).


So it looked the cover of my Alien’s passport – for “stateless” refugees, as now Mr Snowden

Sweden, and I understand all countries that signatories of the 1954 Geneva Convention, can issue the so called alien’s passport, and by which the refugee that holds it may travel to all countries except his/her country of origin. As a matter of fact, I used such a travel document to enter the U.S. in 1977 in occasion of a meeting with my father, then in Washington.

The shortest distance & secure-route argument

There is also the logistics dimension of the problem, in the context of alleged perils of a long flight across Europa and the Atlantic. Even if Snowden would like to implement any asylum proposition from Latin America, for instance of Venezuela, the problem of transportation remains.

Besides, Snowden is reportedly to have declared that he settles now for asylum in Russia only because he ”could not fly to Latin America”. This problem is solved if travel will be done to “neighbouring” Sweden. Geographic realities are obvious in this line of reasoning.

Possible arguments against my proposal

I am also prepared to meet some opposition or criticism about this proposal among supporters of Mr Snowden. I could anticipate that one argument against the proposal is that some Swedish officials and politicians have demonstrated in the past years (since the times of former Justice Minister Thomas Bodström and onwards) a collaborationist stance towards the U.S., including the implementation of Intelligence agreements and operations. Thus, “they will work to give Snowden away”.

I have myself criticized that collaborationist stance in my columns and have argued (I still do) for a returning to a geopolitical stand of non-alignment and non-intervention. I am convinced that geopolitical Neutrality, together with reliance in our own, independent military might, best service Sweden’s national security interests. Also, a Neutral Sweden can best serves the world at large, as it was during the times in which Sweden’s mediation in complex international conflicts served world peace. That task enhanced and maintained the international stature of Sweden.  Thus, although a “non-alignment doctrine” would mean non-intervention in military terms, it would also mean political and diplomatic intervention to the highest degree. There are millions and millions of “Third World” children, women and men that will be grateful to Sweden for that. As it was in the past.

However, Mr Snowden has declared himself that his intentions are not to harm the U.S.; neither does he believe his leaks harm the US.

On the other hand, the possibilities that some amongst the most eager or passionate “Pro-U.S.” politicians would advocate for the extradition or ousting of Mr Snowden would be still there and it is not likely they will disappear completely from the debate. Neither would that stance disappear in Ecuador or Venezuela, for that part, in case Mr Snowden ends there. Sweden is unlikely to allow extradition to the US if the death penalty is involved, as that would violate Swedish law. The average Swede, the one electing the average politician, does indeed consider Snowden a whistle-blower and in Sweden we have the Swedish protective-legislation on whistleblowers-related behaviour. And for those argueing that Swedes are prone to follow U.S. fashions, well, in this case it would be positive if true: It  is already known that the majority of Americans, according to recent poll, do consider Snowden a whistleblower and not, as has been asserted by the U.S. government and associated news media, a “spy” or “traitor”. And, in the context of this appeal, most revealing is one U.S. News poll on whether Foreign countries should provide asylum to  Mr Snowden.  See  update below.

Pol snowden 14 July 2013

U.S. News poll update 14 July 2013

A Swedish asylum for Snowden in the context of the Assange case

With regard to the “case Assange”, the international position of Sweden has suffered due to a two-fold stance. On the one hand, because of the treatment given to the legal case, and secondly due to the public stance of some high-profile Swedish politicians and journalists have taken on the person of Assange.

On the other hand, this “case” has evolved parallel to an increasing openly alignment by Sweden with U.S. interests, not only militarily and at geopolitical levels, but also in matters of information-sharing, intelligence cooperation and protection of American industrial businesses and copyrights. Some of these themes, such as free information, are part of the main profile of WikiLeaks.

From an international perspective – Swedish authorities seem to be unwilling to end the case (for instance by interrogating Mr Assange in London) and are insisting an extradition to Sweden despite other reasonable options. I have gone into this in detail in several articles in my blog. This situation around the case against the WikiLeaks founder – even considering that the allegations in Sweden are not formally related to Assange’s anti-secret organization, become over time more complicated and the impasse harder to deal with – for all concerned.

I accept that others may disagree with this assessment of Sweden’s case against Assange. However, the above summary might be a fair description of how the international community broadly –at least in social media – perceives the situation. Right or wrong factually, it is in any case a sad situation for Sweden, because it does not do justice to the tradition of Sweden as both a sovereign, neutral, independent, and loving-peace nation. I firmly believe that this – to declare openness towards the whistleblower’s asylum – is also an opportunity for Sweden. As it is as well –attending to the present circumstances – a good possibility of a refugee for Mr Snowden,  namely amid a society which shall not limit his freedom of expression.

Finally.  I believe I know the Swedish domestic panorama fairly well. That is why I dare to go on with this proposal – against the known odds. For although I have Italian ancestry, or I live in Italy, I am in fact myself a Geneva-Convention political refugee from Chile, and I became a Swedish national 1979. I am one of the founders of MIR and as both a militant in the Chilean resistance against Pinochet and a prisoner in the Stadium and Quiriquina Island Prisoners Camp, I have borne witness to the earnest solidarity, and audacity, of previous Swedish governments and their envoys.

Thus, I dare to recall that honourable Swedish tradition and ask all Swedish political parties to endorse a proposition of asylum for Mr Edward Snowden. As Mr Björn Brändewall, from the Liberal Party in Kalmar put it recently, “the revelations of Mr Snowden show that an American government agency spies on its own people in violation of the country’s Constitution” [“Snowdens avslöjanden pekar på att en amerikansk myndighet spionerar på det egna folket i strid med landets konstitution”, Fria människör hittar lösningar, 8/7-2013]

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