Whistle-blower Edward Snowden has been granted travel documents allowing him to leave the Moscow airport where he has been hiding, Russian media have said. However his lawyer said he plans to stay in the airport for now.
Russia's migration service granted Snowden a document that allows him to leave the Moscow airport transit zone, the RIA Novosti news agency said Wednesday. The former NSA subcontractor has been holed up at Sheremetyevo Airport since June 23.
The document also confirms that Russia has received Snowden's application for asylum and that it is currently being considered. He is allowed to enter Russia as long as border guards do not object, it said.
The Interfax news agency said Snowden could leave the airport in the "next hours."
"The American is currently getting ready to leave," Interfax said. "He is being provided with new clothes."
However around two hours after the news broke, Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told reporters at Sheremetyevo the 30-year-old was still in the airport, and that his future plans were "undecided."
"He is staying here...he is here in the transit zone," Kucherena said after meeting with Snowden.
Kucherena said Snowden had not yet received the documents needed to leave the airport.
Snowden is wanted by the US government for leaking details of intelligence programs. His revelations, including a phone data collection program and an internet monitoring program called PRISM, have caused a heated political debate around the world on the scope of government spying.
One particular program triggered uproar in Germany after a report by news weekly Der Spiegel said documents provided by Snowden showed that German services cooperated closely with the NSA using an internet spying tool called XKeyscore.
According to Der Spiegel, the software can store several days' worth of Internet traffic data as well as key words from online search engines and Google Maps.
The report has put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the September 22 national elections. Merkel said she only learned of PRISM through media reports, despite the existence of XKeyscore.
Earlier on Wednesday, Snowden was awarded the German "Whistleblower Prize." The award goes to people who "reveal grave abuses and dangerous developments for people and society, democracy, peace and the environment in the public interest," watchdog Transparency International said on its website.
Worth 3,000 euros ($3,942), the prize is co-sponsored by the Federation of German Scientists (VDW) and the German section of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). For the first time, Transparency International Germany was also involved in awarding the prize.
Explaining why Snowden received the award, Hartmut Grassl from the Federation of German Scientists said, "An open society needs civil courage and brave people like Edward Snowden, so that abuses are revealed and prevented."
dr/tj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)