Edward Snowden, the leaker of documents that revealed National Security Agency surveillance programs, has submitted a request for temporary asylum in Russia and could be granted a decision within several weeks, according to news reports.
Snowden's request was submitted Tuesday in an effort to evade persecution from the U.S. government that could bring with it torture or death, said Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden's attorney, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press. Russia's Federal Migration Service is required by law to consider the application within three months, but a decision in Snowden's case could be made in as soon as two to three weeks, the Journal said.
The request is being made for "temporary asylum," not permanent political asylum, because the latter takes longer to consider, the AP said. Under Russian law, political asylum is granted by presidential decree and is not granted often, whereas temporary asylum is akin to refugee status and usually lasts for a renewable period of one year, reports said.
WikiLeaks, the nonprofit news-spilling organization that has been advising Snowden, could not be immediately reached to confirm the reports. Officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., as well as the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, also could not be reached.
Snowden is seeking asylum, according to arguments made in his application, because "he faces persecution by the U.S. government and he fears for his life and safety, fears that he could be subjected to torture and capital punishment," Kucherena said on Rossiya-24 state television, the AP reported.
The application was reportedly given to a special Russian migration official in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, where Snowden has been staying since arriving June 23 on a flight from Hong Kong.
Snowden has said that he wishes to relocate to Latin America, where Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered him safe harbor, the Journal said, but those efforts have been complicated since the U.S. has revoked his passport. As long as Snowden's path to those countries is blocked, he could safely move around within Russia outside of the airport with temporary asylum.
"It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders," Snowden said Friday in a statement to human rights groups at Moscow's airport.
But Snowden has no immediate plans to leave Russia, Kucherena added in the AP report.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Snowden could claim asylum in Russia if he stopped his leaks. "The conditions of receiving political asylum are known to him," the president recently said.