A prize for Edward Snowden. But will he be able to travel to Norway?

By Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Anthropologist and board member of the Bjørnson Academy

A few months ago, it was as if everybody wanted to be Charlie (Hebdo). This gesture was laudable enough (if not always credible), but who wants to be Edward Snowden? After two years, the world’s most important whistleblower is still in Moscow. His chances of returning to a normal life remain slim, in spite of the recent ruling, in the US court of appeals, that the NSA’s storage of telephone metadata is indeed illegal.

Western politicians confronted with the Snowden affair typically respond in a vague and equivocal way. If pressed, they might say that their country does not condone mass surveillance, perhaps adding that it is not in their mandate to engage directly with Snowden’s situation. However, they are wrong on both counts. Just as they criticise rights violations in other countries, they can and should support Snowden, especially now that even a high legal authority in the US has indirectly confirmed that he was right to blow the whistle. Moreover, objectionable forms of surveillance do take place, if not on the same scale as in the US, in European countries as well.

The arguments in favour of mass surveillance are surprisingly weak. As Jesselyn Radack, one of Snowden’s lawyers, recently pointed out, both the Boston bombing and the Charlie Hebdo massacre provide excellent arguments against surveillance. The authorities were unable to prevent either of these events, although they had repeatedly been warned about the perpetrators – not because of advanced surveillance methods, but through human intelligence. ‘When you keep all and sundry under surveillance, you become lazy,’ she says. ‘You stop doing the detective work and trust the algorithms to do the job.’

Recently, a Norwegian cultural academy decided to award its annual prize to Edward Snowden. The Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Academy is named after a significant Norwegian writer, playwright and public intellectual. Bjørnson (1832–1910) was not only in favour of Norwegian independence (achieved in 1905) and democratic values, but he also emphasised the importance of the freedom of thought and speech, the value of disagreement and the need for civil society to be independent of state powers. He was, among many other things, a strong supporter of Alfred Dreyfus.

The Bjørnson Academy, of which I am a board member, awards its annual prize to a person whom we see as a strong representative of the values for which Bjørnson became famous and controversial in his time. This year, the board was unanimous in deciding that surveillance should be the topic of its annual seminar, and that Edward Snowden should be offered the prize.

In the press release sent to the Norwegian media, we explained that Snowden’s interventions did not just concern personal integrity and illegitimate state power, but were also directly relevant for the freedom of expression. If everything that is written or spoken can potentially be traced and stored by the political authorities, the free exchange of ideas will suffer owing to possible sanctions from the state. Threats to the freedom of expression may have been more visible in Bjørnson’s day, but they were less insidious and ubiquitous than today.

There is only one minor problem with the Bjørnson prize. Snowden was happy to receive it, and we duly invited him to come to Molde, Norway on 5 September for the award ceremony. However, since he is still considered a criminal by the US, his security would have to be guaranteed by the Norwegian government. We therefore wrote a letter to Prime Minister Erna Solberg (Conservative Party) and Minister of Justice Anders Anundsen (Progress Party) asking them to ensure free passage for Snowden to Norway. Several lawyers have considered the case and concluded that it would be legally possible for Norway to allow Snowden to enter the country without being extradited to the USA.

Both government parties have for years (not least in recent debates concerning Muslims and Islam) been staunch defenders of the freedom of expression. The populist Progress Party has also always been critical of the state’s tendency to interfere unduly with the lives of citizens. Unfortunately, only politicians from the Socialist Left (SV) have so far supported our demand. The government has not yet responded to our letter, but it was sent only on 1 June. We are optimistic for now, hoping that the Norwegian government will confirm loud and clear that it is uncompromising in its support of the freedom of expression and citizens’ personal integrity, and that it will not let its relationship with other countries stand in the way of the fundamental principles of democracy.

Published 8 June 2015 Open Democracy.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+

Edward Snowden awarded the Bjørnson Prize 2015

PRESS RELEASE
DATE: 2 JUNE 2015
FROM: THE BJORNSON ACADEMY

The Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Academy is proud to announce that The Bjørnson Prize 2015 is to be awarded Edward Snowden for his work on the important issue of the right of privacy, and for being instrumental in heightening the critical awareness regarding the surveillance currently being done by states on their nationals.

 The award will be presented to Edward Snowden at the Bjornson Seminar in Molde on 5 September.

The Bjørnson Academy awards Snowden this year’s Bjørnson Prize because he, through his revelations, have shown how the electronic integrated information world can be a threat to personal integrity, and also might pose a threat against freedom of expression. If everything being said and written can be recorded and stored by the state, the free exchange of thoughts, opinions and ideas will, in diverse and unpredictable ways, come to harm. Many will restrain themselves because ‘big brother is watching you’, while others might face sanctions because they have transgressed the invisible boundaries defined by the state. This is relevant to several of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s main concerns as we know them, as the monitoring of a state’s nationals represents a threat to both individual freedom and freedom of expression.

We hope that the awarding of the Bjørnson Prize to Edward Snowden can help to increase the commitment and interest in this area, and for more people to see the connection between surveillance and freedom of expression.

Snowden is naturally invited to come to Molde to receive the award on September 5, and we have asked the Norwegian authorities to provide him the protection he needs in order to receive the deserved price. The letter enclosed to Minister of Justice Anders Anundsen and Prime Minister Erna Solberg is enclosed.

Contact Persons:
Thomas Hylland Eriksen: phone: + 47 90 05 02 93, e-mail: t.h.eriksen@sai.uio.no
Hege Newth Nouri: phone: +47 93 00 22 62, e-mail: hege@norskpen.no
Kristenn EInarsson: phone: +47 90 12 97 11, e-mail: kristenn.einarsson@gmail.com

ABOUT THE ACADEMY
Bjørnson Academy, The Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression, was founded in 2003.

The Academy is namned after the Nobel Prize Winner Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and shall according to its statutes cover the area between the art of writing and the engagement in current society issues. The work has mainly been centred around larger international seminars and in publishing a series of essays related to the topics raised by these seminars.

THE BJØRNSON PRIZE
The Academy annually presents a price of NOK 100,000 and a statuette and a diploma to a person or an institution that has contributed largely in an international context
within the area covered by the Academy’s purposes.
Past winners of the Bjornson Prize is ia Kristin Solberg, Yasar Kemal, Bishop Thomas of al-Qusiyya and Mair, Wojoud Mejalli, David Zonsheine, Adonis and Hrant Dink.

The jury is also the Academy board: Hege Newth Nouri (president), Peter Normann Waage (vice-president), Kristenn Einarsson, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Thorvald Steen, Knut Ødegård and Kari Vogt.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+

Letter to the Prime Minster and the Minister of Justice

In the care of
The Honourable Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg
and the Norwegian Minister of Justice, Anders Anundsen Esq.

Oslo, June 1st  2015

The Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Academy is proud to announce that The Bjørnson Prize 2015 is to be awarded Edward Snowden for his work on the important issue of the right of privacy, and for being instrumental in heightening the critical awareness regarding the surveillance currently being done by states on their nationals.

The Bjørnson prize will be awarded Edward Snowden in Molde on Saturday 5th of September as part of a larger seminar where the main topic is dedicated to the right of privacy, surveillance and monitoring. The board of the academy has given the responsibility of the seminar to a sub committee consisting of three of the board’s members, Hege Newth Nouri, Kristenn Einarsson and Thomas Hylland Eriksen.
Please find the seminar program attached.

The board says in the press release regarding selecting Edward Snowden as the awardee of this year’s prize:
The Bjørnson Academy awards Snowden this year’s Bjørnson Prize because he, through his revelations, have shown how the electronic integrated information world can be a threat to personal integrity, and also might pose a threat against freedom of expression. If everything being said and written can be recorded and stored by the state, the free exchange of thoughts, opinions and ideas will, in diverse and unpredictable ways, come to harm. Many will restrain themselves because ‘big brother is watching you’, while others might face sanctions because they have transgressed the invisible boundaries defined by the state. This is relevant to several of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s main concerns as we know them, as the monitoring of a state’s nationals represents a threat to both individual freedom and freedom of expression.

The Bjørnson Academy’s board, which also serve as the jury selecting the annual winner of The Bjørnson Prize, consists of the following members:

Hege Newth Nouri, president of the Academy and Secretary General of Norwegian Pen
Peter Normann Waage, vice president of the Academy, State Scholar, writer and essayist
Kristenn Einarsson, director of the Norwegian Publishers Association
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor at the University of Oslo
Knut Ødegård, State Scholar, poet and translator
Kari Vogt, senior lecturer at the University of Oslo
Thorvald Steen, State Scholar and writer

The Bjørnson Academy has contacted the renowned law firms, Advokatfirmaet Schjødt AS, here represented by senior barristers Cato Schiøtz and Emanuel Feinberg, and Advokatfirmaet Hestenes og Dramer & Co, here represented by senior barrister Frode Sulland, for them to look at the legal possibility of Edward Snowden coming to Molde for there in person to receive this most deserved prize.

The evaluation from the above mentioned firms makes it clear that there is judicial reason to believe that Edward Snowden may come to Norway in person from his refuge in Moscow, without being extradited to the US. This conclusion is based on the rule of exception regarding breaking the law for political reasons as described in the Norwegian law of extradition § 5, first subsection. Even if §5, second subsection, states that if there is also a non political aspect to the purported violation of the law, extradition may be executed, there is a strong argument in this particular case, that also the non political aspect of Snowden’s actions can be viewed as politically based and motivated.

Furthermore, regarding Snowden’s possibility of coming to Norway without a valid passport, the law of extradition, § 8, third subsection, clearly states that this may be left to the courtesy of the government.

The Bjørnson Academy, here represented by the subcommittee is, together with our legal representatives, hereby making a formal request to Minister of Justice Anders Anundsen and Prime Minister Erna Solberg to ensure that Edward Snowden is allowed to come to Norway to receive the prize in Molde, without risking being extradited to the United States. We ask for a speedy reply to this letter, since the award ceremony is only a few months away.

Yours sincerely,
on behalf of The Bjørnson Academy

Hege Newth Nouri                        Kristenn Einarsson                    Thomas Hylland Eriksen

Copies of this letter will be forwarded to:
Julie Brodtkorp, Permanent Secretary, the Prime Minister’s Office
Lars Øy, Permanent Secretary, the Prime Minister’s Office
Hans Røsjorde, Permanent Secretary, the Minister of Justice’ Office
Vidar Brein-Karlsen, Permanent Secretary, the Minister of Justice’ Office
Jøran Kallmyr, Permanent Secretary, the Minister of Justice’ Office
Advokatfirmaet Schjødt, represented by Cato Schiøtz and Emanuel Feinberg
Ben Wizner, acting US lawyer for the interests of Edward Snowden

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+