News / USA

Iceland May Not Be the Haven US Leaker Hopes

Edward Snowden, who has worked at the National Security Agency for the past four years, speaking during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, June 6, 2013.
Edward Snowden, who has worked at the National Security Agency for the past four years, speaking during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, June 6, 2013.
Reuters
The leaker who revealed top secret U.S. surveillance programs says he hopes to find shelter in Iceland, but he may be disappointed by the reception from a new government seen as less keen than predecessors to attract exiles and Internet renegades.
 
The country of 320,000 people has served as the home base for the fundraising efforts of anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and earlier earned a reputation as a safe haven by taking in American fugitive former chess champion Bobby Fischer in 2005.
 
Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old contractor at the U.S. National Security Agency now holed up in a hotel room in Hong Kong after divulging NSA secrets, said he hoped to go to a country which encompassed his values of Internet freedom, naming Iceland.
 
But the government of newly-elected conservative Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, while still untested, is widely seen as closer to Washington than past administrations and less keen to foster the island country's cyber-haven image.
 
Snowden has yet to make a formal application for asylum and would have to go to Iceland to make the request, said Kristin Volundarsdottir, head of Iceland's Directorate of Immigration. Gunnlaugsson's government did not otherwise comment on the case.
 
“I would be very surprised if they (the government) would be eager to engage in any international disputes with the U.S. And it is pretty difficult to be granted asylum here,” said Stefania Oskarsdottir, lecturer in political science at the University of Iceland.
 
“I think what this guy is saying is based on something he is imagining or hoping for rather than actual facts.”
 
As a U.S. citizen, Snowden would not need a visa to enter Iceland and could immediately apply for asylum. He would be free to live in Iceland while immigration authorities decide his case, which could take more than a year, according to Helga Vala Helgadottir, a lawyer specializing in asylum cases.
 
“The government is perceived as being less welcoming to asylum seekers,” said Helgadottir. While the decision rests with immigration authorities, Snowden could appeal to the interior ministry if his application were rejected.
 
Iceland has an extradition treaty with the United States, but it is unclear whether it would cover any crimes that Snowden might be charged with.
 
An Icelandic foundation championing free speech has offered to help him.
 
“We have a lawyer, we have everything set up,” said Smari McCarthy, head of the International Modern Media Institute and a member of the Pirate Party, a movement that promotes Internet freedom and holds three seats in Iceland's 63-seat parliament.
 
Refuge for chess champion
 
Were Snowden to reach Iceland, his arrival could put public pressure on the government by voters proud of their image of supporting media freedoms and also angry about the secrecy that surrounded the collapse of their banks in 2008.
 
“This is coming at a very interesting point for us, because obviously in the wake of our financial collapse there is a very big emphasis on a pro-truth society here,” said Katrin Oddsdottir, lawyer at law firm Rettur in Iceland, which specializes in human rights issues.
 
In 2010, with a center-left government in power in Iceland, WikiLeaks registered a company called Sunshine Press Productions there for its fundraising.
 
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, now holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sex crimes, visited Iceland several times in the run-up to some of the website's major releases.
 
Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir helped Assange put together the “Collateral Murder” video package, which included footage of a U.S. helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians in which two Reuters journalists were killed.
 
Jonsdottir has campaigned to make a free speech and Internet safe-haven status for Iceland enshrined in law.
 
Wikileaks won a ruling this year in Iceland's Supreme Court against MasterCard's local partner. The court upheld a lower court's ruling that the payment card firm had illegally ended its contract with the website.
 
In the Fischer case, the former child chess prodigy was wanted by the United States for evading taxes and breaking sanctions by playing a match in Yugoslavia in 1992. After years living abroad he was detained in Japan for nine months, until Iceland offered him asylum and citizenship in 2005. He spent his last years in Iceland before dying in 2008.
 
It was a conservative coalition of the same parties now in power in Iceland that pushed through the highly unusual step of granting Fischer citizenship.
 
“So the most interesting precedent that we have is actually a precedent which dates from a time when the same parties were in power as are now,” said Oddsdottir.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs