‘Hero’ Or Hypocrite? Snowden Happy To Take Russian Asylum As They Invoke New Anti-Gay Law (VIDEO)

As those fighting for LGBT rights feel unsafe in Russia, Snowden, under the banner of civil liberties and freedom from government, happily moves in. Screenshot  @ CNN

As those fighting for LGBT rights feel unsafe in Russia, Snowden, under the banner of civil liberties and freedom from government, happily moves in. Screenshot @ CNN

We live in ironic times; there is no debating that fact. The very week that supporters of Edward Snowden – the ‘hero’ of civil liberties – celebrate his being given asylum in Russia, that same country issues a edict that Olympic athletes and their friends and family better not be seen holding hands or waving rainbow flags or they will, indeed, be arrested and deported. ARRESTED AND DEPORTED?!

Do you not see the irony? Of course you do; how could you miss it??

Let’s refresh: Edward Snowden, vaunted as a man who stood up bravely and boldly against the excesses of the American government (let’s not quibble for a moment about his ‘cut and run’ method of ‘standing up’), stole documents, dumped them widely across the media with the help of people like journalist Glenn Greenwald (recently heard offering ominous threats if anything were to happen to his source), then absconded first to China, making the ironic point that:

He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government. [Source]

Certainly the latter part of that statement might be true, but the former? Amnesty International offers a counterpoint regarding China’s ‘spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”:

Amnesty International has documented widespread human rights violations in China. An estimated 500,000 people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial, and millions are unable to access the legal system to seek redress for their grievances. Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise, and censorship of the Internet and other media has grown. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, and of Falun Gong practitioners and Christians who practice their religion outside state-sanctioned churches continues. While the recent reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases may result in lower numbers of executions, China remains the leading executioner in the world.

So clearly Snowden missed the history lesson on his first stop but, still, he was only briefly in China; next, off to Russia, where, against political pressure from the U.S., he has now been offered a 12-month resident permit (which, they say, can be extended), with a job offer at the Russian equivalent of Facebook (a job with their ‘all-star security team‘!), the right to travel anywhere in the country, while plans are being made to bring his father and girlfriend over. I bet the Russian bureaucrats (particularly the old-time ones) are just giddy at the opportunity to rub this ‘welcome to Russia’ party in the U.S.’s face after all the high-profile defections in reverse. You know, those ballet dancers and athletes and professionals who defected to the U.S. from Russia for… freedom.

Yes, the freedom from an over-reaching, oppressive, authoritarian government. From Amnesty International on Russia:

Though nominally a democracy with periodic elections, this constitution granted to the Presidency extensive power over both the legislative process and the state’s executive functions. In the 2000s, President Vladimir Putin exploited these institutional levers to gain the kind of authority usually associated with authoritarianism. […]

The greatest concerns for human rights in the Russian Federation concern the ongoing conflicts in the North Caucasus, where reports of enforced disappearances, the killings of civilians and torture remain commonplace. Related to this violence have been ongoing efforts to silence voices of dissent. Most famously, the outspoken advocate of human rights in Chechnya, Anna Politikovskaya, was murdered in her Moscow apartment building in 2006. But in 2009 alone, under President Medvedev, four other prominent human rights activists were assassinated, including Natalia Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov Marksharip Aushev and Ivan Khutorskii. It remains unclear who ordered these murders and for what reasons, as none of the perpetrators in these four cases have been brought to justice.

So our vaunted ‘whistleblower’ is off to make his point about the lack of transparency and the egregious overreach of United States national security policies by happily accepting asylum in a country that shoots its human rights activists with no legal consequences.

And certainly – though, perhaps, on a less deadly note –  the timing of that asylum with the wide dissemination of Russia’s ‘new anti-gay’ law is getting global attention as preparation for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia gets underway. Odd, with the whole world watching, that Russia would take this very moment of conflating historical events – Snowden/Olympics/LGBT rights – to make broad public statements about what visiting athletes and their retinue can expect when they come for the big event. From ABC News:

Russia’s sports minister confirmed that athletes and spectators attending next year’s Winter Olympic Games in the southern city of Sochi will face fines, arrest and deportation if they violate the country’s new anti-gay law.

In Russia gay public displays of affection, including holding hands, or displaying symbols like a rainbow flag, are now banned. It is even illegal to speak about homosexuality around minors. Technically the ban is against “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” around minors, but the implication for openly gay individuals is clear. [… ]

Mutko’s statement comes on the heels of comments by a lawmaker from St. Petersburg set off a firestorm online when he stated that fans and athletes would not be immune from prosecution under the law during the games.

Some athletes have already stated that they will be wearing rainbow pins in protest, while Russian activists call for a “complete boycott of the games.”

Boris Dittrich, LGBT advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), says no one who supports LGBT equality and freedom is safe in Russia right now.

“No, tourists, athletes, fans, nobody is safe in Russia, because when you say or do something in public which is not negative about homosexuality and minors are involved, then you run the risk of being arrested, detained, fined and deported,” he says. “The IOC should take a strong stand and demand from Russia not to enforce these hideous laws. HRW is against a boycott of the games because we want to put pressure on Russia.”
Of course, those who are blind in their embrace of Snowden as a ‘hero’ will spin this equation – the irony of him seeking asylum as a civil liberties fighter in a country hell-bent on curtailing them – in a way that exonerates him from moral responsibility. I expect that and will no doubt hear about it in comments to follow. But more objective people – on all sides of the aisle – have no choice but to look at the fuller picture of any event, including this one. A ‘hero’ can’t break the laws of his own country (potentially putting people and intelligence programs in harm’s way) under the guise of fighting for transparency and civil liberties, then ignore those very issues in his host country when it comes time to save his own hide… at least not without being called on his hypocrisy.

But as those who support human rights, LGBT equality, and basic freedoms protest, fight, and feel unsafe in Russia, one American who’s rejected his own country, to the stated cause of civil liberties and oppressive government, happily moves in.

Here’s the video: