Permission for Edward Snowden to stay in Russia extended for 'a couple more years'

Amid calls for a pardon, the White House has claimed Snowden's disclosures were "far more dangerous" than Chelsea Manning's

Permission for Edward Snowden to stay in Russia extended for 'a couple more years'

File photo. Edward Snowden appears on a live video feed broadcast from Moscow at an event sponsored by ACLU Hawaii in Honolulu. Picture by Marco Garcia AP/Press Association Images

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has had his permission to stay in Russia extended.

Mr Snowden, the former NSA contractor and CIA employee, was granted asylum in Russia in 2013.

He has been charged under US espionage legislation after leaking classified documents related to US surveillance programmes.

He could face at least 30 years in prison if convicted of the three charges.

In comments quoted by Reuters, Mr Snowden's Russian lawyer said the whistleblower's permission to stay has been extended by three years, and he will also qualify to apply for Russian citizenship next year.

The news of his extended stay in Russia was confirmed by the Russian foreign ministry yesterday, with spokesperson Maria Zakharova saying Mr Snowden "just extended the deadline for a residence permit in Russia for a couple more years".

Ms Zakharova was responding to the suggestion from former CIA acting director Michael Morell that this week "provides an excellent opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to give President-Elect Donald Trump the perfect inauguration gift" by handing over Mr Snowden.

In comments translated by The New York Times, Ms Zakharova argued: “You spoke, Mr Morrell, and now it’s clear to everybody that in your office, it’s normal to bring gifts in the form of people, and to hand over those who seek defense.”

The new extension will allow Mr Snowden to stay in Russia until 2020.

Chelsea Manning sentence

The news came as President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who will now be released from prison in May.

Edward Snowden took to Twitter to thank President Obama for the decision.

He had previously said: "Mr President, if you grant only one act of clemency as you exit the White House, please: free Chelsea Manning. You alone can save her life."

There have been frequent calls for President Obama to pardon Mr Snowden, although with barely 48 hours left before Donald Trump is sworn in the chances of a presidential intervention seem to be fading.

In a recent press briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest appeared to downplay the possibility of a pardon.

He said: "Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing.

"Mr Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy. "

He added: "Obviously, as Chelsea Manning has acknowledged, and as we have said many times, that the release of the information that she provided to WikiLeaks was damaging to national security. But the disclosures by Edward Snowden were far more serious and far more dangerous."

Amnesty International has been among the groups leading calls for President Obama to pardon Snowden.

They write: "His courage changed the world. He sparked a global debate, changing laws and helping to protect our privacy. Edward Snowden is a human rights hero, yet he faces decades in prison under charges that treat him like a spy who sold secrets to enemies of the USA."

President-elect Donald Trump has previously referred to Mr Snowden as 'a traitor'.