Snowden and Russia’s Whistleblowers

Posted July 14th, 2013 at 6:18 am (UTC+0)

This Russian whistleblower is dead. Grave of Russian laywer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow cemetery. Although Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison on Nov. 16, 2009, he was tried posthumously and convicted Thursday of tax evasion. Photo: Sergei Rozhkov

“These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.”
Edward Snowden, July 12, 2013, on seeking asylum in Russia.

Oh well, at least standing up for the rights of one very special human.

As the libertarian seeks refuge among the authoritarian, Edward Snowden seeks asylum in Moscow at a harsh time for Russian whistle blowers.

While asylum has not been granted, Russian politicians have tumbled over themselves to welcome Snowden to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The American’s bid to stay in Russia comes neatly framed by reprisals against two of Russia’s most important internet whistle blowers.

On Thursday, the day before Snowden’s request for asylum here, a Moscow court completed its trial of a dead man, a practice that apparently faded out elsewhere in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Edward Snowden at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on July 12, flanked by an unidentified translator on his left, and Sarah Harrison of Wikileaks on his right. Photo: Human Rights Watch

In 2008, Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer for the Hermitage Fund, denounced the theft of $230 million in Russian tax money by a group of government officials. For his pains, he was jailed, denied medical treatment, and according to the Kremlin’s human rights commission, beaten to death by jail guards. Three years after his death, no official in Russia has been tried and convicted for his death or for the theft of the tax money.

The case caused a huge international scandal.

But instead of prosecuting the crimes Magnitsky denounced, the Kremlin ordered prosecutors to try the dead man on the same charge – theft of tax money. And so on Thursday in a Moscow district court, judge Igor B. Alisov droned on for an hour and a half reading a guilty verdict to an empty steel cage.

Aleksei A. Navalny in court with his wife, Yulia, center, and one of his lawyers, Olga Mikhailova. If Navalny is convicted of embezzlement, his sentence could keep him in jail and out of September race for Mayor of Moscow and out of the 2018 race for the Presidency of Russia. Photo: Reuters/Sergey Brovko

(Edward, if have you downtime in the Moscow airport transit area and want to read up about the Magnitsky case, check out this link. Oops, on second thought, don’t go there. I forgot: the U.S. isn’t the only government in the world that can monitor web browsing histories.)

Looking ahead to next Thursday, a judge is expected to convict Alexei Navalny of embezzlement. Navalny runs an anti-corruption website that routinely draws so many readers that he is called “Russia’s most popular blogger.” He coined and promoted a fatally damaging nickname for Russia’s ruling party: “the party of crooks and thieves.”

In a normal country, Navalny, aged 37, would be running for governor of a large region. In fact, he is a candidate this summer for Mayor of Moscow.

But a conviction on Thursday would keep him off the ballot in September for the mayoral election, and probably off the ballot in 2018, for the next presidential election.

The trial is taking place in Kirov, a regional capital 1,000 kilometers away from his internet readers in Moscow.

On July 5, Navalny summed up his defense with a phrase that applies far beyond the walls of his Kirov courtroom: “Let us get out of the world of fantasy and fairy tales.”

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

3 responses to “Snowden and Russia’s Whistleblowers”

  1. Gennady says:

    1. In the pronouncement cited in the article, Mr. Snowden made very controversial assessment that wasn’t shared by ALL independent international human rights watchers. For the sake of his integrity and for not becoming an international embarrassment, I would strongly advise Mr. Snowden to withhold any future praise on the state of human rights in his beloved abovementioned countries with their authoritarian rulers, namely present day Russia. I wonder what would a psychologist/psychiatrist say about the Mr. Snowden’s inconsistency: is he delusional or simply dishonest?
    2. Is Mr. Snowden aware that, in line with the treatment of already mentioned whistleblowers, for twelve years fundamental human Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen stipulated in articles 17.1, 22.1, 27, 29.1,29.5,31, 56.1 of Russian Constitution are denied for Russian people, isn’t he? Hasn’t nowadays Russia, after one thousand years history, become a banana republic without regards to basic fundamental human rights, has it?
    3. Is Mr. Snowden aware that in his “free” Russia there were shot dead dozens upon dozens journalists after having their say, and almost every time nobody was held to account? Is Mr. Snowden aware about Litvinenko murder, about blasts of apartment houses? Is he aware that there was a vicious campaign against NGOs, even those that weren’t implied in any anticonstitutional underground, terrorist activities on Russian soil, that just monitored fairness and honesty of held election? The NGOs were led by highly respected and qualified Russian professionals with great records of legal experience. Does Mr. Snowden know that the Bill signed by Mr. Putin to restrict activity of NGOs contravened to the Russian Constitution and numerous international agreements signed by the Russian Federation, doesn’t he? Is the now existing government in Russia a lawful legal entity after being appointed by the parliament with a shaky mandate in the election that was fraudulent/heavily tilted in favor of a certain dishonored and disgraced party? Did Mr. Putin win his Presidency in “open” and “honest” competition with his counterparts, didn’t he?
    4. Is Mr. Snowden aware that in his fantasy “free people’s” Russia ALL TWELVE YEARS anybody’s Internet activity is heavily monitored by the FSB (federal security service) government and the Internet activity ISN’T JUST MONITORED but ruthlessly restricted at some points? I’ll share my personal experience of being watched and mercilessly cut off in his fantasy “free” Russia. My “Internet sin” was having my say/opinion for some international broadcasters on the reasons of present Russia’s woes, lawlessness, 99% guilty verdicts in all courts of law, abuse of basic fundamental human rights in the country proudly bearing membership in G8, where people are held hostage of the repressive machine. After having my say, on December the 22, 2011, the eve of the first anticipated antiPutin’s rally, my paid in advance access to the Internet (the Provider Federal JSC “Rostelecom”) was SWITCHED OFF for ONE WEEK without any technical problem and any explanation. How could have it happened without spying on my Internet activity? Who could have known about me visiting international websites? In anticipation of the next anti-Putin rally on February 3, 2012, once again the Internet became permanently inaccessible for me and for many other “free” Russians. Everyone in nowadays Russia would say it was unwise to have my say, and it had been a lucky escape for me without my computer confiscated, as is a usual practice in Russia, my throat slashed or apartment being burned-down. I’m unsure that the mentioned “restraining” Internet measures against “free Russian people” having their say are the only in the pipeline of the FSB-appointed government in the “law-abiding lenient and free Putin’s Russia”.

  2. Jim N says:

    Well stated. I still think your suggestion of requesting asylum in North Korea is the best option for Mr. Snowden. I’m sure James Dresnok would love the company.

  3. Hannah says:

    You forgot to mention that Mr. Snowden gave China the ammunition it needs by making all the leaks in HK. Could not be a better timing when US was accusing China of conducting espionage against the US and US companies. After getting the free gift they want, China slyly let him sneak out HK so that they don’t have to deal with the US pressure for his extradition, giving Russia all the headache of dealing with the US. As a big power, it is not easy for Russia to give in to US pressure to hand him over.
    It is a laugh to see Mr. Snowden, an idealist at best, seeking political asylum in Russia, and/or seeking support from countries notorious for their human right abuses. At least here in the US, there are channels and mechanisms readily available for people who want to fight for human rights to utilize and to further his cause. I hope after spending some time outside the US, in any of those countries that are opening their arms to Mr. Snowden, he would come to realize how stupid he is.
    You are fighting so hard for human rights in your own countries that you are willing to align with the most notorious human rights abusers and world bullies. Really, I wish you had a chance to visit the “Lao Gai” museum in Washington DC, to see the true face of repressive China.



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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