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PEN Norway Awards Snowden, Calls on Government to Grant Safe Passage

"It is high time for a political initiative to challenge the threats towards the prizewinner, an initiative that should conclude with an offer of stay and protection."

Edward Snowden received Norsk PEN's Ossietzky Prize on Monday. (Photo:

Norway's chapter of the freedom of expression organization PEN on Monday announced it would award its Ossietzky Prize to whistleblower Edward Snowden for his role in exposing mass surveillance—and challenged the Norwegian government to allow him to come to Oslo to accept it without fear of extradition.

"It is high time for a political initiative to challenge the threats towards the prizewinner, an initiative that should conclude with an offer of stay and protection," the organization wrote in its press release announcing the prize. "A suitable start of such a process would be for the Norwegian government to guarantee him safe passage to receive the Ossietzky Prize for 2016."

Snowden faces espionage charges in the U.S. for his 2013 disclosure of the National Security Agency's (NSA) unlawful mass surveillance of its citizens and foreign allies. Although the European Parliament in 2015 recognized his status as a defender of human rights and urged member states to grant him asylum, none of the countries in the European Union have heeded the call.

Norsk PEN's challenge to the government is the second time in as many years that a literary human rights organization in Norway called on its leaders to guarantee Snowden's freedom to collect a freedom of expression prize in person.

As the English-language Norwegian publication News in English reports:

Last year the Norwegian government was also challenged when another literary organization awarded the now-32-year-old computer expert with its Bjørnson Prize “for advancing freedom of expression.” Like Norsk PEN, Norway’s Bjørnson Academy (named for human rights champion Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson who also wrote Norway’s national anthem) called on the government to guarantee Snowden’s freedom while in Norway to collect his prize.

At the time, the government said it could not guarantee Snowden's freedom due to the EU's extradition treaty with the U.S., which is also Norway's most important ally, News in English wrote. But this year, circumstances have changed, as Norsk PEN leader William Nygaard—a Norwegian icon of freedom of expression—has explicitly joined the call.

Nygaard, a former book publisher, survived an assassination attempt in 1993 stemming from his company's publication of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

"Norwegian authorities must secure that [Snowden] can obtain travel documents and a guarantee for free movement," he told the newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday. "For us, it’s important that we put the spotlight on the Snowden case with him here to develop the debate over limits on national and international surveillance."

The prestigious prize is named after Carl von Ossietzky, a German newspaper editor and pacifist, who in 1931 revealed Germany's secret re-armament operations in violation of the Versailles Treaty. Ossietzky was arrested by Nazis two years later and imprisoned in concentration camps. In 1935, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but was refused permission by German authorities to leave to Norway to collect the award. He died of tuberculosis in a prison hospital in 1938.

News in English quoted a column published Tuesday by Norwegian newspaper editor Harald Stranghelle which stated that it's time for officials to "stand up for the rights we love to view as our fundamental values."

The government "can’t close its eyes [again] and pretend this isn’t up for them to decide," Stranghelle wrote. "That’s cowardly, and can be understandable, but the price of holding the world’s most important whistleblower at arm’s length is being robbed of all credibility in our time’s most important debate over rights."

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