Former intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden, who disclosed details of US electronic surveillance programmes in June, will seek temporary asylum in Russia, human rights groups say.
Participants in a meeting between Mr Snowden and human rights groups at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where he has been stranded in the transit area since 23 June, said the American-born fugitive would seek to travel on to Latin America.
The Kremlin has told Snowden, who has been on the run since making his disclosure, that he should stop criticising the United States if he wants refuge in Russia.
“Snowden is serious about obtaining political asylum in the Russian Federation,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker who attended the meeting.
Nikonov added that Mr Snowden did not consider his actions to be harmful to his country.
Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was unaware of a formal request for political asylum from Mr Snowden.
But another Russian official separately said that Mr Snowden was expected to submit one.
A grainy picture of Mr Snowden taken by one participant, with legal assistant Sarah Harrison to his right, soon surfaced on social media and news sites. He wore a grey jacket and looked in good health.
Image courtesy Human Rights Watch
Edward Snowden, 30, had not been seen in public since his arrival in Moscow, and Russian officials have shown increasing impatience over his stay. But it has also become clear that he has no clear route to a safe haven from Moscow.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered him asylum, but he has not revealed his plans.
The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent. Edward Snowden
Washington, which seeks to arrest Mr Snowden on charges of espionage for divulging details of secret US surveillance programmes, has revoked his passport and pressed nations not to take him in or help him travel.
“In recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the US government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he wrote earlier to the rights groups.
“The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent,” read the letter, a copy of which was posted on Facebook by Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of the Moscow office of New York-based Human Rights Watch.