The U.N. envoy charged with protecting free speech around the globe has declared that confidential sources and whistleblowers are a fundamental element of a healthy democracy and that governments must protect them rather than demonize them. The report by David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, also sheds light on the punitive treatment of whistleblowers in the United States, most notably former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is living in Russia as a fugitive from the U.S. government.

In this video from Human Rights Watch, Edward Snowden describes how “a whistleblower almost has to become comfortable with the idea of becoming a martyr, because the probability of retaliation is so certain.”

From The Intercept:

Snowden has been charged with three felonies, including two under the heavy-handed World War I-era Espionage Act, which does not allow defendants to make the argument that their actions were in the public interest.

Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, notes in his report that “Snowden’s revelations of surveillance practices” made “a deep and lasting impact on law, policy and politics.”

In a statement accompanying the report in response to Kaye’s questionnaire, U.S. officials acknowledged that government employees who deal with classified material are not covered by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. But they insisted that those employees “retain the ability to report any perceived government fraud, waste, or abuse to appropriate inspectors general, other executive branch oversight entities, and certain members of Congress while preserving any national security interests at issue.”

The U.S. statement maintained that criminal charges are reserved for people who disclose secrets “with the intent, or with reason to believe, that the information is to be used, or could be used, to injure or harm the United States, or to advantage a foreign nation.”

But those assertions were quickly condemned by whistleblower advocates as farcical.

Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers, said the U.S. statement in response to Kaye’s questions “grossly overstates the protections for whistleblowers and journalists in the U.S. and turns a blind eye to the many shortfalls in current U.S. law and U.S. policies that chill freedom of expression and interfere with investigative journalism.”

“National security and intelligence community whistleblowers have no meaningful legal protections,” she noted.

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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