German opposition asks top court to order Snowden testimony in Berlin

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is seen in this still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in a hotel room in Hong Kong, in this June 6, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/Courtesy of The Guardian/Handout via Reuters (Reuters)

BERLIN (Reuters) - German opposition lawmakers appealed to the Constitutional Court to oblige the government to bring ex-U.S. spy contractor Edward Snowden to Germany to testify before a parliamentary committee investigating espionage. The appeal, by Green and Left party lawmakers, states that Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left coalition government has no real interest in examining the mass U.S. surveillance of German citizens exposed by Snowden, and does not want him in Germany for fear of straining ties with close ally Washington. The coalition agreed committee members would either travel to Moscow to interview Snowden, or speak to him via video link. Snowden is wanted in the United States on charges of theft of government property and unauthorised communication of classified intelligence, and lives in Russia under a three-year residence permit. He has declined the options offered by Merkel's coalition but said he would be prepared to come to Germany if it grants him asylum. The government, however, says it would not guarantee that he would not be detained and possibly extradited. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Friday Snowden did not fulfil the criteria to be granted asylum. The opposition argues that the government, in not actively seeking Snowden's presence, is violating their right to gather evidence and investigate the spying of German citizens properly. "We [parliament] control the government and the intelligence services, and not vice versa," said Left party lawmaker Martina Renner, alluding to the appeal filed on Thursday evening. But former Constitutional Court judge Hans-Joachim Jentsch told Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper that he did not think the opposition's move had much chance of success. "It is a case of balancing the lawmakers' right to investigate against the duty and right of the government to protect the country from potential harm - in this sense through acting against the interests of an ally," Jentsch said. Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong and then Moscow last year, is believed to have taken 1.7 million computerised documents. Those published so far revealed massive programmes run by the U.S. National Security Agency that gathered information on emails, phone calls and Internet use by hundreds of millions of Americans, and extended to similar surveillance abroad. (Reporting by Thorsten Severin and Alexandra Hudson, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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