A Freedom Prize for Snowden Would be a Travesty

The European Parliament established the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1988 to “honor individuals or organizations for their efforts on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Named after the Soviet human-rights activist Andrei Sakharov, the prize tends to go to individuals and organizations that are no less courageous than those garlanded with the Nobel Peace Prize but whose plight is often overlooked. This year’s laureate will be announced on Thursday.
Past recipients include the late Czechoslovak politician Alexander Dubček, whose liberalizing reforms introduced the ill-fated Prague Spring; Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, who died last year in a mysterious car accident; and the Russian human-rights group Memorial.
This year, however, the EU risks discrediting the prize if it is given to one of the three shortlisted finalists: former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked details of classified American and British spying operations and has since gained asylum in Russia.
Nominations for the Sakharov Prize are made either by the European Parliament’s political groups or with the support of at least 40 members. In the spirit that human rights ought to be nonpartisan, the three largest parliamentary groups united this year to nominate Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old campaigner for Pakistani female education who survived a Taliban assassination attempt last year. Forty-two members nominated the equally worthy Ales Bialatski, Eduard Lobau and Mykola Statkevich, political prisoners in Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, whose names deserve to be better-known.
Mr. Snowden was nominated by a coalition of far-left European parties. “The European Parliament must protect all whistleblowers who stand up to states that violate human rights and fundamental freedoms in any way whatsoever,” declared Marie-Christine Vergiat, one of the French parliamentarians who nominated Mr. Snowden.
Missing in this statement is any consideration of democratic governments’ need to keep secrets. It is also worth stressing that the countless “revelations” Mr. Snowden leaked to the Guardian and other media outlets have shown no deliberate violations of the law on the part of American or British officials.
Instead, the lawbreaking was done by Mr. Snowden himself, who justified his actions by comparing his erstwhile colleagues in the American intelligence community to Nazis. “I believe,” he said at Moscow’s airport in July, “in the principle declared at Nuremberg, in 1945: ‘Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience.'” The cost of Mr. Snowden’s disclosures—in terms of manpower needed to rework intelligence operations and systems now that they have been revealed to enemies—is incalculable.
Far from being a whistleblower on par, for instance, with dissident Cuban journalist and 2010 Sakharov Prize winner Guillermo Fariñas, Mr. Snowden is a traitor, a defector to Russia akin to the members of the Cambridge spy ring. Vladimir Putin gets this. He has publicly delighted in his unexpected “Christmas present.”
Rendering Mr. Snowden’s actions even more dubious is his collaboration with WikiLeaks, the anarchist Internet collective whose founder, Julian Assange, deliberately leaked the names of Afghan informants cooperating with coalition troops and hosted a show on Kremlin propaganda channel RT.
The fact that Mr. Snowden would even make the Sakharov shortlist alongside real human-rights luminaries is particularly grotesque in light of recent developments in Russia. Moscow has increased its bullying of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in the run-up to next month’s Vilnius summit, where these former Soviet republics may sign association agreements with the EU. Armenia, one of the six countries that participate in the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, has already declared that it will not move forward with an EU agreement.
Meanwhile, Moscow recently conducted a military war game simulating an invasion of several NATO states. Last month Russian troops began building barbed-wire fences in part of South Ossetia, the breakaway region of Georgia whose illegal occupation by Russia the EU has repeatedly condemned. If these moves don’t bother European Greens and leftists, what about Moscow’s virulent antigay campaign and increased oppression of dissidents?
The Sakharov Prize was named for a man who stood up to totalitarianism and paid a heavy personal price. Awarding the prize to Mr. Snowden, who has betrayed an open society and sought refuge in an increasingly closed one, would dishonor the legacy of its namesake.