Snowden awarded “Alternative Nobel Prize”

Edward Snowden. Wikimedia Commons image, edited by Linda Lewis.

Edward Snowden

A Swedish charitable foundation announced today that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a co-recipient with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”

A courageous whistleblower and an undaunted journalist

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation selected Snowden for the honor based upon his “courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights.” Snowden took refuge in Russia as US officials sought to arrest him for exposing government secrets. He remains in exile, he says, because a US court would not consider whistleblowing a defense against the US government’s allegation that he violated the Espionage Act. The law has been abused in the past to punish political dissidents and anti-war activists.

Alan Rusbridger, an editor for The Guardian, a British newspaper, played a key role in publishing evidence Snowden disclosed that US intelligence officials, with cooperation from UK intelligence agencies, illegally intercepted the personal communications of millions of people in the US and overseas. The Foundation cited Rusbridger’s efforts in “building a global media organisation dedicated to responsible journalism in the public interest, undaunted by the challenges of exposing corporate and government malpractices.”

Alan Rusbridger by Alessio Jacona, International Journalism Festival 2014. Creative Commons license, CC BY-SA 2.0

Alan Rusbridger by Alessio Jacona, International Journalism Festival 2014 (CC)

When called to account for his actions to a parliamentary committee, Rusbridger recounted the pressures his newspaper endured from UK officials.

“They include prior restraint, they include a senior Whitehall official coming to see me to say: ‘There has been enough debate now’. They include asking for the destruction of our disks. They include MPs calling for the police to prosecute the editor. So there are things that are inconceivable in the US.” —Alan Rusbridger

[American journalists appear less certain that such things are “inconceivable” in the US.]

About the award

The idea of ‘right livelihood’ is an ancient one. It embodies the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation, which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth’s resources. – Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Since the Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980, 158 people from 65 countries have been recognized for their efforts in “offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today,” the RLAF states. In contrast to the Nobel Prize, criticized for embracing power, candidates for the Right Livelihood Award are “farmers, teachers, doctors, or simply, concerned citizens.”

The Foundation’s long-term relationship with laureates also differs from that of the Nobel Prize Committee. The Foundation says it is committed to protecting those “whose lives are endangered because their work threatens powerful political and/or corporate interests.”  For Snowden, that will include funding for legal support, Reuters reports. The cost of a legal defense is a significant barrier to justice for many whistleblowers.

Political Snub? The Associated Press reports that Sweden’s Foreign Ministry “withdrew the prize jury’s permission to use its media room for the announcement.” Many will recall Sweden’s aggressive pursuit of Julian Assange, another truthteller reportedly targeted by the U.S. government.