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Edward Snowden’s lawyers are trying to find asylum for him in the EU

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Edward Snowden could be forced to return to the U.S. and face trial if a country sympathetic to his plight won't grant him asylum.

As the clock ticks on Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia, the whistleblower’s lawyers are conferring with the European Union about countries that may be able to grant him asylum.

Snowden’s asylum in Russia will expire in 2020 and he has no guarantees or promises that his refuge from U.S. prosecution will be renewed. Add in the uncertainty with President Donald Trump and his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Snowden’s status is up in the air.

On Monday, a lawyer for the exiled Snowden attended a hearing at the European Parliament to make the case for an EU nation to grant him asylum. Wolfgang Kaleck, a German lawyer and one of Snowden’s legal representatives, argued that the prosecution he would face at home (potentially a 1,000-year sentence) is “against all European standards,” reports EurActiv.

“We think the European Union member states have the obligation to support him,” he said, adding that the EU should “pay back” Snowden for his good deeds, which also revealed the mass surveillance of Europeans. The Snowden leaks were one of the main reasons why the infamous data sharing agreement between the U.S. and EU, Safe Harbor, was ruled invalid.

Snowden has not formally applied for asylum in any EU country since he first went on the run in 2013. Since then, in 2015, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution that suggested EU nations would not extradite Snowden if he ever came to their country.

The EU provides an interesting option for Snowden. If granted asylum in one EU country, he could in theory travel to any other EU country given the bloc’s freedom of movement policy. In practice, though, it could end up much more complicated.

Kaleck and other lawyers have examined possible countries that would grant the whistleblower asylum. Sweden has spoken with Russia about the matter. However, there have been disappointments too. Kaleck had hoped that the new Spanish government would be welcoming of Snowden talks but that has not advanced since.

Meanwhile, Germany may be another option. A court there is investigating a case that would allow Snowden to travel to Germany to testify at a surveillance hearing.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Ben Wizner added that Iceland — though not an EU country — is providing a “lot of optimism” following the strong performance of the Pirate Party in recent elections. The party has said in the past that it would grant asylum.

President Trump is sure to be weighing on Snowden’s mind. Trump has publicly called him a “traitor” while supporters of Snowden were disappointed when former president Barack Obama did not pardon Snowden following the pardoning of Chelsea Manning.