A coalition of civil rights groups are launching a new campaign this week to convince President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden.
The effort, which is organized by the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, will gather signatures from regular people and endorsements from celebrities. Snowden will speak by video link from Moscow at a press conference on Wednesday morning in New York, and an initial list of "prominent legal scholars, policy experts, human rights leaders, technologists and former government officials" in support of the cause will be released, according to a statement from the campaign.
The campaign coincides with the launch of Oliver Stone's movie Snowden, which chronicles the life of the former NSA contractor who provided secret documents from the U.S. spy agency to journalists and revealed how the country was conducting mass surveillance on a global scale. The movie, which portrays Snowden in a positive light, opens in U.S. theaters on Friday.
A presidential pardon would mean that Snowden could come home from Moscow, where he's lived for the past three years, without the fear of being prosecuted. He currently faces federal charges of violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property, even though his disclosures led to reform of the wiretapping program by Congress.
In the past, the White House has rebuffed calls to pardon Snowden. After 168,000 people signed a White House petition for a Snowden pardon, homeland security advisor Lisa Monaco responded last year that he should "come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers—not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime."
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But Snowden's supporters are hoping that excitement around the Snowden movie will spur support for a pardon. “I think the value of the movie is that it's likely to reach millions of people who have not been paying close attention to Snowden or to the debate about surveillance and privacy,” Ben Wizner, Snowden's lawyer at the ACLU, told me. “Those people will emerge from the movie more educated about surveillance and with more positive attitudes toward Snowden.”
Stone said at the film's Toronto premiere last week that he hopes Snowden is pardoned, but he doubts it will happen.
After Wednesday, Snowden fans will be able to show their support by signing a petition at www.pardonsnowden.org, which is currently password protected.
While Obama has granted far more commutations than previous presidents—mostly of federal inmates serving long sentences for drug crimes—he's granted only 70 pardons so far, according to Justice Department statistics. That's fewer than any president who served a full term since John Adams.
The campaign's supporters face a ticking clock, with just four months until President Obama leaves office in January. Neither of the two major party presidential candidates are likely to be very accommodating of a Snowden request for pardon: Hillary Clinton has said his actions helped terrorists, and Donald Trump has said he should be executed.
This post has been updated to include Obama’s record on presidential pardons.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.