Ai Weiwei Joins Call for President Obama to Pardon Edward Snowden

”As an artist, free speech is essential to my work," he says.

Ai Weiwei at Museum of Modern Art on November 2, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for WSJ. Magazine Innovators Awards.

Artist Ai Weiwei has added his voice to the call for US President Barack Obama to pardon National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

The request is part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign, where each December, the non-profit asks the public to speak out against human rights violations worldwide. This year’s list includes 11 causes, from an Egyptian photojournalist who is currently on trial after photographing police violence, a political activist in Iran working to help Kurdish women, as well as two young men who have been imprisoned in Azerbaijan after tagging a statue.

”As an artist, free speech is essential to my work, and I know first-hand what happens when that comes into conflict with the powers that be, and how important global support is when the state tries to silence you,” Ai said in a statement released with the announcement. “Allowing people to express themselves is the difference between a modern society and a barbaric one,” the Chinese artist added.

Ai Weiwei, Portrait of Edward Snowden (2016). © Ai Weiwei

Lego-style portrait of Edward Snowden, created by Ai Weiwei for the 2016 Write for Rights campaign. © Ai Weiwei

In 2014, his installation at Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay saw him fill the ex-prison with the work Trace, which consisted of LEGO sculptural works depicting the faces of political prisoners and those living in exile. Ai has created 11 more of the LEGO portraits for each case taken up by this year’s Write for Rights.

“A world in which nobody stands up for whistle-blowers and activists is a world where nobody takes risks to defend the public interest or expose government abuses,” said Snowden in a statement. “People need to stand together to defend the kind of society they want to live in,” he added.

Tanya O’Carroll, Advisor, Technology & Human Rights Team to Amnesty International, agrees. “Snowden´s actions have been vindicated: just look at the vast surveillance apparatus president-elect Trump will inherit,” she told artnet News. “History will remember Obama’s judgement on this.”

Snowden has lived in exile in Russia since 2013, when he was given asylum after fleeing the United States.

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