Shhhcretly is pleased to have the exclusive rights to release the English version of this coverage on Edward Snowden.
This original article was first published 1 December 2018 in German in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, which reserves the publishing rights.
Shhhcretly would like to thank Der Standard and Steffen Arora for their kind permission to share the translated piece exclusively on this blog.
(Above) Photo credit: Lindsay Mills 2018.
Edward Snowden’s warning cry
By Steffen Arora
Der Standard, 1st December 2018
Former CIA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations shone a light on the western world’s surveillance practices. But he, and those who helped him, are paying a high price. He talks to Der Standard about the need to fight on.
“This is retaliation.” In an interview with Der Standard, Edward Snowden spoke in no uncertain terms about the authorities’ treatment of the people who saved his life. In June 2013, the former US intelligence services contractor became a hounded whistleblower after he exposed the extent to which the US and its allies carry out global surveillance of the internet and digital communications, regardless of suspicious activity. He made these revelations from Hong Kong, never expecting that the moment they were published, he would become the world’s most wanted man.
It was the same moment that Robert Tibbo’s telephone rang. The Canadian had made a name for himself in the city as a dedicated human rights lawyer. He fought for the rights of asylum seekers living a pariah existence in Hong Kong – with next to no chance of their status being recognized and leading a decent life there. Tibbo saw Snowden as another refugee who needed help. To hide him from his pursuers, Tibbo found shelter for Snowden with some of his other clients; asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
“They were warm, welcoming and kind. When I had fallen to the bottom of the world, they helped me up without giving a damn about who I was,” Snowden says. In the current political climate, loaded with the fear of outsiders, Snowden holds the refugees’ actions in even higher regard. “Their example, their humanity, it gave me a reason to keep fighting.”
Refugees and their lawyer under pressure
Not only Snowden, but also those who helped him, are now paying a high price for their actions. The US continues to accuse Snowden of spying and demand his extradition – and President Donald Trump would like to see him executed. Meanwhile, the seven refugees and their lawyer Mr. Tibbo are under pressure from the Hong Kong authorities.
In 2018, it is no longer an exception that human rights lawyers like Tibbo become the object of persecution themselves, says Manfred Nowak, Austrian human rights lawyer and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Not only lawyers, but also journalists and activists from NGOs are being increasingly targeted, he says, even murdered, as records such as Russia’s show. “Human rights have not been in a crisis like this since the end of the Second World War,” Nowak says.
For Snowden’s helpers, the situation has deteriorated to the extent that this week, Tibbo turned for help to a selection of media outlets including the New York Times, Paris Match and Der Standard. He himself was forced to leave Hong Kong under diplomatic protection. He had to leave the seven refugees behind.
Effectively in exile, he continues working for his clients, who are living in constant fear of deportation. No country wants to take them in. Even Canada, which showed willingness to do so back in 2016, appears to have retreated in the face of pressure from abroad.
“Death by delay” is how lawyers such as Pascal Paradis from the NGO Lawyers Without Borders, which has been working on the case, describes this process. Snowden himself, fleeing US authorities, was left stranded in Moscow. Since then he has faced accusations that he is a Russian spy.
In fact he was aiming for Latin America, he says. “The Department of State failed to cancel my passport in time to keep me from leaving Hong Kong. But once they realized I was in the air en route to Latin America, they made public announcements to put every government around the world on notice that they intended to block my freedom of movement.”
No asylum in Austria
When he landed in Moscow for a stopover, he was stuck and could not travel further. All of his asylum applications in Europe were rejected, including by Austria. “This more than anything else is what prevents me from leaving Russia,” Snowden says in response to his critics. “If major powers of Europe can be induced by this or that secret promise to be violators of the asylum right rather than its guarantor, you can’t help but question the whole system. If you can’t count on a right now, can you count on a law?”
Manfred Nowak also sees this danger. “Democracy as a form of government is increasingly coming under pressure, as we can see in the US, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland or Italy. These countries are governed by populists, who came to power through democratic channels, but are now attacking democracy.” Nowak sees Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, as a particularly stark example of a fascist being voted in to lead a democracy.
Nowak stresses the importance of learning from history: Free elections have destroyed democracies time and time again. “Strident democracies” urgently need to defend themselves against “pseudo- democracies,” he says, pointing to leaders such as Trump, Viktor Orban and Bolsonaro.
The western world is currently experiencing a backlash, meaning human rights defenders must go on the offensive, Nowak says. “Everyone must do their bit,” he warns emphatically. “Otherwise it could be too late.”
Nowak sees this backlash in Austria too, where the center-right and far-right are governing in coalition. “Measures are being taken which are being seen, and therefore criticized, as restrictions on the constitutional state, democracy and human rights.”
“There’s a machine behind it”
Snowden sees the refugees’ treatment and his own as telling. “You can’t look at something like this without getting a sense that the mask has dropped, and behind all the pretense of civility and process we like to believe governs our little day to day, there’s a machine behind it that would burn everything we love to the ground without a tear if it meant making a problem go away.”
Snowden is convinced it’s no coincidence that those who helped him are now being targeted. “They’re worried about the example of these families, the symbol their moral choice represents. Anybody can look at this situation and see at a glance who is right and who is wrong.”
But if the “big governments” manage to rewrite this story with an unhappy ending for those involved, they will also succeed in changing the positive message of his work with a single blow, Snowden warns. He says he does not know how far state institutions would go to achieve this, “but they’ve already gone too far.”
Human rights lawyer Nowak has first-hand experience of the conditions in Hong Kong, where the seven migrants are currently stuck. He trained lawyers there; Tibbo was one of his students.
Nowak says he knew the Hong Kong Bar Association, which is putting the Canadian lawyer under pressure and sabotaging his mandate for the refugees, as an “independent institution.” He can only assume the bar’s current treatment of Tibbo is a result of “enormous pressure from outside.”
Snowden has called on his supporters not to give up on the fight for a free world. And above all the fight for those who helped him. “Take a look at the world. Before long, we’ll all feel like refugees.”
NOTE: Documents evidencing the Hong Kong Bar Association egregious treatment of Mr Tibbo can be found in the Der Standard article as embedded PDFs: https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000092725390/pressure-mounts-on-edward-snowdens-lawyer-robert-tibbo?ref=article