Now the most audacious display of support for Snowden is under way. Messages calling for his pardon are being beamed on to the outside wall of the Newseum, the Washington institution devoted to freedom of speech and the press that stands less than two miles from the White House.
The event is a guerrilla action carried out without the knowledge or approval of the Newseum itself, though the organisers of the stunt from the Pardon Snowden campaign are hoping they will be given a sympathetic reception.
“We sincerely hope that the Newseum supports what we are doing as an affirmation of the significance of a free press,” Noa Yachot, the campaign’s director, told the Guardian before the event.
Almost 4,000 messages backing Snowden’s decision to expose mass government surveillance of emails and phone calls have been gathered by the campaign, from across the US and around the world.
The messages include this one, from Casey: “I’m a 69-year-old vet and applaud your guts, we owe you lots and let’s hope you can come home to your family and friends.”
And this, from Tess: “Ed, I’m on your side. You’re a hero and an example of what it means to be an American. Thank you for making such an incredible sacrifice in order that we might move a bit more toward the truth.”
Frank offers: “True patriotism: speaking up when your government loses its moral compass.”
The messages are being projected onto the 74ft-high marble tablet that is attached to the facade of the Newseum and which has the words of the first amendment carved into it.
Written in 1791 as part of the bill of rights, it states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Saturday night’s action in Washington comes at a critical time for Snowden, who remains in exile in Russia where he has been granted asylum, having been charged in the US with offences under the Espionage Act.
Obama has less than six weeks left in office, meaning that if he is to use his power to pardon the whistleblower or extend some other form of leniency that would allow him to come home, he has to do so quickly.
Obama’s successor, President-elect Donald Trump, has hinted that he would sooner see Snowden executed than pardoned.
Yachot said the Newseum had been chosen as the location of the guerrilla action as a way of highlighting Snowden’s careful and responsible use of global news organisations as a way of disseminating his leaks.
“Snowden’s work with journalists, including the Guardian, enabled the release of information into the public domain,” she said. “It showed that we need a strong and adversarial media, working with whistleblowers, to inform the public about what the government is doing without anyone’s knowledge.”
Yachot added that though time was running out, history suggested that US presidents often reserved their most contentious pardons until the last minute.
“There are only six weeks left,” she said, “but we know that controversial pardons often come at the end of a president’s term, so we are still hoping.”
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