Can Wikileaks get whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum in Iceland? Maybe!

Jun 21, 2013 at 10:34 AM ET

WikiLeaks, along with Icelandic freedom of speech advocates, is mobilizing to help whistleblower Edward Snowden in his bid for asylum in Iceland, the remote volcanic island that is arguably the world’s oldest democracy.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafusson, who is also an award-winning Icelandic journalist, tells Vocativ he’s awaiting “a signal” from the Iceland government on whether it will grant Snowden’s application. Hrafusson says he acted as an intermediary in passing along the request from Snowden to Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson and his cabinet. He says he has already received the first formal response from the government, which concerns the procedure for asylum seekers.

“One of the main obstacles is that you have to, according to the legal code in Iceland, be present in the country to seek an asylum,” Hrafusson says. “There have been cases where this interpretation of the law has not been used in certain circumstances. So this will be debated by parliamentarians and the general public in Iceland, and let’s see what happens.”

It won’t be easy. For one thing, it is well known that Iceland has an extradition treaty with the United States that dates back to 1902.

“Turning Iceland into a safe-haven for whistleblowers is still a work in progress,” says Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson, one of three Pirate Party members who won seats in parliament in the April elections. “It’s a common misconception that Iceland has already implemented the parliamentary resolution aiming to make Iceland a leading country in freedom of expression and informant protection,” Gunnarsson wrote in an email from Reykjavik.

“While the resolution was passed unanimously in parliament,” he adds, “it has still not been implemented in law and it’s not certain when that will happen. So while the general population’s and parliament’s attitudes towards informants and whistleblowers here in Iceland is quite favorable, the law is not yet any more favorable than anywhere else.”

The involvement of WikiLeaks was first announced on Wednesday by its founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for the last year to avoid extradition himself. He is wanted in Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual assault. Assange told reporters the group was in touch with Snowden’s legal team and were “in the process of brokering his asylum in Iceland. ” On Thursday, Reuters reported that an Icelandic businessman linked to WikiLeaks had a private plane ready to fly  Snowden to Iceland.

Snowden, 29, is believed to be in hiding in Hong Kong where he fled after exposing the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance programs to the Guardian and the Washington Post. In his first public interview published in the Guardian on June 9th, the former NSA contractor expressed his preference for asylum in Iceland, a country with a strong reputation for protecting free speech.

The Iceland-based foundation International Modern Media Institute drafted the resolution on free speech and a free press, with help from WikiLeaks, that was unanimously adopted by parliament in 2010 and is widely regarded as providing among the strongest protections in the world. The Institute has publicly offered to help Snowden in his asylum request. Executive Director, Smári McCarthy, says the group has had no contact with Snowden but they have a lawyer on standby to help him navigate the process, should he request it. McCarthy believes Snowden’s disclosures are extremely important.

“They show how absurdly far the surveillance state has developed,” McCarthy says. “This stuff only happens because the Congress has a slight tendency towards Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to the intelligence community and basically grants allowances for whatever they want even if that means violating the fourth amendment and in many cases the first amendment.”