Since 1995 the Right Livelihood Prize has been announced in the Foreign Ministry's premises. This year the foundation has been told it cannot use the ministry. The official reason is the new security status for the ministry's press room, where the event is usually held.
But Swedish Television (SVT) reports it has learnt that the real reason is the identity of this year's prize recipient. Edward Snowden has been living in Russia for a year, after fleeing the USA. He revealed details of extensive international spying by the American NSA agency, where he had worked as a contractor. The USA is seeking him on spying charges.
SVT reports Foreign Ministry officials visited the Right Livelihood Institute on Tuesday, and told them they could not use the ministry this year.
According to SVT, foreign minister Carl Bildt was offended by the prize going to Edward Snowden, but the minister himself says he was not personally involved in the decision. Instead, he notes that the security rules for the premises have changed, and stresses that this is an award given by an organisation that is independent from the Swedish government. "I think it is also in their interest (to stress that)," Bildt told Swedish Television News.
Last spring Carl Bildt was accused of making sure Edward Snowden was not invited to an international internet conference held in Stockholm. The Foreign Ministry said then that Snowden's name had been removed simply because he was unlikely to attend in person.
From the Right Livelihood Institute, Ole von Uexkull tells Radio Sweden, "I mean, we had arranged the coffee and the Swedish kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) and everything, so, no, this press conference had been prepared and organized, and we had just last week, we were discussing the last details."
von Uexkull tells news agency TT he does not think Snowden is any more controversial than other recipients. Commenting on the Foreign Office's decision to close its doors to them, he says he understands that "realpolitik" comes in to it.
"I understand how the Foreign Office thinks, but when the laureates have come from small and weak countries, Sweden have stood up for values of democracy and human rights. It would have been suitable if they had dared to stand up for these values also in relation to more powerful states," von Uexkull tells TT.
The awards were supposed to have been announced on Thursday, but after the original location at the Foreign Office was made unavailable, the foundation decided to announce it one day early.
Snowden receives this year's honorary award "for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights".
He shares the prize with the Editor of the British Newspaper The Guardian, which published the original story and secret security files leaked by Snowden. The citation is "for building a global media organisation dedicated to responsible journalism in the public interest, undaunted by the challenges of exposing corporate and government malpractices".
Three other recipients will share the award sum of SEK 1.5 million. They are Asma Jahangir for her work for human rights in Pakistan ("often in very difficult and complex situations and at great personal risk"), Basil Fernando and the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong SAR/China ("tireless and outstanding work") and the American Bill McKibben for his work in the US to mobilise popular support for "strong action to counter the threat of global climate change".
The Right Livelihood Awards are often referred to as "Alternative Nobel Prizes". They were introduced in 1980 "to honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today". The Prize is usually awarded in December, during the same month as the Nobel Prizes. The ceremony is usually held in the parliament, the Riksdag.
TT reports that the Right Livelihood foundation has been in touch with Snowden and his lawyer several times, and has decided to fund legal support for him. According to the foundation, Snowden would like to come to Sweden to receive the prize. Swedish law sees spying as a political crime, and Snowden would, in theory, not be at risk of extradition from Sweden to the USA.