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Norwegian court rejects Edward Snowden lawsuit on free passage

OSLO (Reuters) - Former U.S. spy contractor Edward Snowden has failed in a legal bid to win guarantees from Norway that it would not extradite him to the United States if he went there to receive a free speech award, a Norwegian court said on Monday.

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Snowden’s law firm said in April he would take the state to court to secure free passage to the Nordic country. The United States has filed espionage charges against him for leaking details of extensive U.S. surveillance programs.

“Oslo District Court has decided that the lawsuit from Edward Snowden against the State regarding extradition, should be dismissed,” the court said in a statement.

Snowden was granted asylum in Russia, which borders Norway, in 2013. He had been invited to Norway to receive a freedom of speech award from the local branch of writers’ group PEN International, but worried that he would be handed over to the United States, his lawyers have said.

NATO member Norway has close diplomatic ties with the United States. The Justice Ministry has declined to comment on the case. leaving it to the court to decide.

The Oslo court said the country’s extradition laws only apply to people who are already in the country, and that the justice ministry could not be compelled to issue a decision on whether or not to extradite someone who lives abroad.

The decision is expected to be appealed within days, one of the lawyers involved in the case told Reuters.

“We believe the court is being too formalistic,” said Jon Wessel-Aas, representing three Norwegian press organizations acting as third-party interveners supporting Snowden’s lawsuit. He acknowledged that there was no U.S. extradition request right now, but argued Washington was sure to make one if Snowden visited the country.

As part of the verdict, Snowden was also ordered to pay 7,000 Norwegian crowns ($823.64) to the government to cover legal expenses.

($1 = 8.4989 Norwegian crowns)

Reporting by Terje Solsvik, editing by Gwladys Fouche and Mark Trevelyan