The United States should allow whistle-blower Edward Snowden to return to his home country “without fear of criminal prosecution under conditions that would not allow him to raise the public interest defence”, according to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The 1917 Espionage Act – under which he has been charged in the United States – does not allow for any form of public interest defence.
Mr Snowden, speaking via video-link from Moscow shortly after the resolution was voted, on the second day of the Assembly’s summer plenary session in Strasbourg, said PACE’s position would be very helpful to whistleblowers everywhere. “If you can’t mount a full and effective defence – make the case that you are revealing information in the public interest – you can’t have a fair trial,” he pointed out, speaking to participants at a fringe-meeting.
Backing a report by Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP/CD), the parliamentarians said whistle-blowers “threatened by retaliation in their home countries” should be granted asylum in Council of Europe member and observer States, as well as the EU, provided their disclosures met a set of conditions for ethical whistle-blowing.
Whistle-blower protection laws should also cover employees of “national security or intelligence services and private firms working in this field”, the Assembly said.
The parliamentarians called for a binding multilateral treaty on whistle-blower protection to be drawn up by the Council of Europe, also open to non-member States, based on an existing recommendation from the Organisation’s ministerial body.
The US is an observer state to the Council of Europe, the 47-nation body upholding human rights and democracy.