PARIS -- The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, considered Europe's top human rights award, has been bestowed on luminaries like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. This year, in a slap against Washington, the award could go to Edward J. Snowden, known as either the N.S.A. whistle-blower or a traitor, depending on perspective.
The European Parliament, the European Union's only democratically elected body, nominate d Mr. Snowden for the prize late Monday. The others in contention include Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was 14 when she was shot by the Taliban last October but survived to become a potent voice in the struggle for education rights for women; Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic who is imprisoned in Russia; and Erdem Gunduz, who helped inspire the mass protests against the Turkish government's perceived authoritarianism this year in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
The nomination of Mr. Snowden is the latest in a series of rebukes from European lawmakers upset with the Obama administration's foreign policies, including its surveillance program. More recently, the British Parliament refused to authorize the country's participation in a military strike against Syria for a gas attack that killed more than 1,400 civilians. Only France, which does not require legislative approval of military actions, backed President Obama's call to punish Syria for using chemical weapons.
While hardly as momentous as the Syria vote, the nomination of Mr. Snowden carries great symbolic weight. It glaringly illustrates the chasm the leaks have opened between the United States and its allies, not only European countries but also Brazil, Mexico and other nations that have been spied on by the National Security Agency.
In late June, after reports in Der Spiegel magazine that Washington was spying on the European Union and that the N.S.A. had tapped its offices in Washington, Brussels and the United Nations and gained access to internal computer networks, there was an angry outcry from European politicians.
Mr. Snowden, 30, who has received temporary asylum in Russia, has been charged in the United States with espionage and theft, after his leaks of N.S.A. materials showing the extent of American spying at home and abroad. But the leftist and Green party members of the European Parliament who nominated him for the award praised him for his courage.
Mr. Snowden "deserves to be honored for shedding light on the systematic infringements of civil liberties by U.S. and European secret services," Daniel Cohn-Bendit of France and Rebecca Harms of Germany, the leaders of the Parliament's Green members, said in a statement. "Snowden has risked his freedom to help us protect ours."
In an online New York Times opinion article on Sept. 15, Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, wrote that Mr. Snowden had exposed a gap between members of the younger "WikiLeaks generation," who regard him as a role model, and older commentators in the traditional news media, who believe he needs to be brought to justice. Mr. Ludlow cited a recent poll showing that 70 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 believed that Mr. Snowden "did a good thing."
The winner of the prize will be announced in October, and the awards ceremony will be held in Strasbourg, France, in December. Last year, two convicted Iranians -- Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer who represents opposition activists and is now in prison, and Jafar Panahi, a filmmaker who has been released on bail but was banned from making films or leaving the country -- were joint recipients of the prize.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.