German opposition parties intensified efforts to give former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden safe passage to Berlin to testify in front of a parliamentary committee investigating mass spying.
In a bid to outmanoeuvre Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, which doesn't want to risk damaging relations with the U.S. by hosting the fugitive responsible for leaking NSA secrets, lawmakers from the Green Party and anti-capitalist Left Party said they'll seek a court order to bring Snowden to Germany to speak in front of the panel.
The parliamentary investigative committee is probing revelations of NSA mass surveillance and the alleged tapping of Merkel's cellphone disclosed by Snowden's leaks, which have opened a rift between the transatlantic allies. The tension culminated in July, with Merkel's government expelling the top U.S. intelligence officer from Berlin after more spy allegations.
While all the lawmakers on the panel agreed they want to talk to Snowden, those from Merkel's faction have said they prefer to do so by video link or to visit him informally in Moscow. The opposition has insisted on allowing the 31-year-old former contractor to safely testify in person, even as Germany's close ally seeks his arrest on espionage charges.
"This committee meets in Berlin – and this committee needs to meet with the witness Edward Snowden," Martina Renner, the Left Party lawmaker who sits on the committee, told reporters in the German capital. "We've decided on this challenge because we feel obligated to clarify one of the greatest scandals of this century."
The opposition parties filed a complaint with the Karlsruhe-based Federal Constitutional Court against the government, as well as the coalition majority on the panel, to clarify which body makes the decision on calling or blocking a witness. The challengers' lawyer, Astrid Wallrabenstein, said she sought an expedited procedure.
Wallrabenstein declined to give a timeframe when asked how long it would likely take the court to decide.
Snowden, who last month won a three-year extension of his asylum in Russia, has declined to speak with the legislative investigators outside Germany. His Berlin-based lawyer, Wolfgang Kaleck, has said that such questioning can only take place within the country.
Green Party lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele, who visited Snowden in Moscow last October, repeated that the ex-spy offered to testify to authorities in Germany.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert declined to comment on the opposition bid on Friday. Merkel's government last year ruled out granting Snowden asylum.