When I received an email late on Thursday from “Edward Snowden”, I was naturally sceptical. The invitation, supposedly from one of the world’s most sought-after people, had a whiff of Cold War spy thriller to it. The note instructed me to go to the arrivals hall of Sheremetyevo Airport, and “someone from airport staff will be waiting there to receive you with a sign labelled G9”. What would you think?
When I finally got through the media scrum to Terminal F, there was a man with a sign, “G9”, just like they said. So, along with eight other people – including the Russian ombudsman, an MP and representatives of other rights groups – I was put on a bus and driven to another entrance. We walked in and there he was: Mr Snowden, waiting for us along with someone from WikiLeaks and a translator. The first thing I thought was how young he looks – like a school kid.
I managed to snap two pictures and send them to colleagues at HRW to be posted on Twitter before they said no photos.
The meeting lasted one hour. He read a statement and then said he was ready to answer questions. He said he wanted us to petition the US and European states not to interfere with his movements. Under the circumstances, he said, he had no option but to file a claim for asylum in Russia. He said his living conditions were nothing to complain about and he was in good health – but he couldn’t stay at the Moscow airport indefinitely. Hence, the second request: please ask the Kremlin to support his asylum claim.
Then we left the same way we came in, along corridors and once again through the incredible media circus.
Tanya Lokshina is Russia program director of Human Rights Watch.