Human rights groups poised to launch campaign calling for Snowden pardon

American whistleblower Edward Snowden © Andrew Kelly
The American Civil Liberties Union, among other organizations, will launch this week a campaign asking President Barack Obama to consider pardoning Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed global surveillance programs run by the US.

The campaign, supported by the likes of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, will begin on Wednesday, September 14, days ahead of the opening of Oliver Stone's new film, Snowden, a portrayal of Edward Snowden and how he exposed National Security Agency surveillance operations in 2013. Using, the groups will ask for signatures in support of amnesty for Snowden.

Snowden is currently living in temporary asylum in Russia after the Obama administration levied charges against him that included two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

"We are going to be doing both a mass signature campaign around the world and trying to get prominent individuals and organizations to join our call to President Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office," Ben Wizner, Snowden's lawyer and director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told Motherboard.

Wizner added that the campaign was planned to begin in conjunction with Stone's film, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden.

"I think Oliver will do more for Snowden in two hours than his lawyers have been able to do in three years," he said.

A Snowden-pardon effort has long been in the works, as Wizner told New York Magazine earlier this year that Snowden's legal team would "make a very strong case between [June] and the end of this administration that this is one of those rare cases for which the pardon power exists."

In 2013, a petition calling for a Snowden pardon garnered enough signatures to prompt a response from the Obama administration. That response, however, did not come until 2015, as the White House again asserted that Snowden "should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers—not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime."

Wizner told Motherboard that unless the US alters the charges against Snowden — an Espionage Act conviction could mean a lengthy prison sentence — the whistleblower is unlikely to return for such judgement.

"Unless the government is willing to consider charging him with something appropriate, there's not going to be a trial if we have anything to say about it. That doesn't mean there couldn't be some other kind of agreement," Wizner said. "We think the proper response to Edward Snowden shouldn't be what the punishment should be, it should be how to thank him. And until that's the case, he is living safely where he is."

Snowden is a former intelligence contractor who has worked with Booz Allen Hamilton and the CIA. He leaked thousands of classified NSA documents, which were published by news outlets in June 2013. He was soon charged by the US. Days later, he flew to Russia, where he has remained while seeking asylum elsewhere. He has since advocated reform of US surveillance and espionage programs.