STOCKHOLM (AP) — Edward Snowden was among the winners Wednesday of a Swedish human rights award, sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel,” for his disclosures of top secret surveillance programs.
The decision to honor the former National Security Agency contractor with the Right Livelihood Award appeared to cause a diplomatic headache for Sweden’s Foreign Ministry, which withdrew the prize jury’s permission to use its media room for the announcement.
Snowden split the honorary portion of the award with Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, which has published a series of articles on government surveillance based on documents leaked by Snowden.
The 1.5 million kronor ($210,000) cash portion of the award was shared by Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jahangir, Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission and U.S. environmentalist Bill McKibben.
Created in 1980, the annual Right Livelihood Award honors efforts that founder Jacob von Uexkull felt were being ignored by the Nobel Prizes.
Foundation director Ole von Uexkull — the award creator’s nephew — said all winners have been invited to the Dec. 1 award ceremony in Stockholm, though he added it’s unclear whether Snowden can attend.
“We will start discussions with the Swedish government and his lawyers in due course to discuss the potential arrangements for his participation,” von Uexkull told The Associated Press.
Snowden, who has reportedly also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, remains exiled in Russia since leaking top secret NSA documents to journalists last year. He has been charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and could face up to 30 years in prison.
Though the honorary award doesn’t include any money, the foundation would offer to help pay Snowden’s legal costs, von Uexkull said.
The announcement had been set for Thursday, but it was communicated early after a leak to Swedish broadcaster SVT.
Von Uexkull said the foundation was denied access to the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s media room, where it has announced the awards since 1995, after it gave the ministry advance notice of the winners.
He provided an email sent Tuesday in which the ministry said it had closed the room to “external events” for security reasons, but said he believed the decision was linked to the fact that Snowden was among the laureates.
The ministry referred questions to Foreign Minister Carl Bildt’s spokesman, Erik Zsiga, who said in an email that new security rules that took effect on Sept. 1 mean that government buildings “cannot in the same way as previously be used for this type of event.”
As late as last week, the Foreign Ministry sent a note inviting foreign correspondents to attend the news conference in the ministry’s media room.
The award foundation cited Snowden’s “courage and skill” in revealing the extent of government surveillance and praised Rusbridger “for building a global media organization dedicated to responsible journalism in the public interest.”
In a statement, Rusbridger said he was “delighted” to share the award with Snowden “because I think he was a whistleblower who took considerable risks with his own personal freedom in order to tell society about things that people needed to know.”
Jahangir is a human rights lawyer who has defended women, children, religious minorities and the poor in Pakistan, the award citation said.
Fernando, originally from Sri Lanka, led the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission for nearly two decades and now serves as its director of policy and programs.
McKibben is founder of 350.org, a grass-roots environmental movement aimed at spurring action to fight climate change.
The Right Livelihood Award is typically announced just ahead of the Nobel Prize announcements, which this year will begin on Oct. 6. There is no connection between the two, except Jacob von Uexkull established his prize after failing to persuade the Nobel Foundation to expand the categories for its prestigious awards. A wealthy stamp dealer, he sold his collection to fund the prize.
The Right Livelihood Award foundation typically honors grass-roots activists and says it’s “not an award for the world’s political, scientific or economic elite.”
Karl Ritter can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/karl_ritter
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