U.S. intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden has been elected to the post of student rector at Glasgow University in Scotland, one of Britain’s oldest universities.
Snowden, living in temporary asylum in Russia after disclosing U.S. government secrets on surveillance programs and other activities, faces criminal charges in the United States after fleeing last year first to Hong Kong and then Russia.
The former National Security Agency contractor was nominated for the post by a group of students at the university after receiving Snowden’s approval through his lawyer.
University officials said the computer analyst beat three other candidates in an online vote that attracted a record turnout to win the three-year role of rector at the university, which dates back to 1451.
The rector is meant to represent student issues to university officials but it has previously served a political designation, having been held by Winnie Mandela in 1987 and Israeli whistleblowerMordechaiVanunu in 2005.
Chris Cassells, Snowden’s spokesman for the campaign, said Glasgow University had a “proud and virtuous tradition” of making significant statements through its rectors.
“Today we have once more championed this idea by proving to the world that we are not apathetic to important issues such as democratic rights,” Cassells said in a statement.
Snowden, in a statement to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, said he was “humbled and honoured” by the vote, describing it as a bold and historic decision in support of academic freedom.
“In a world where so many of our developing thoughts and queries and plans must be entrusted to the open internet, mass surveillance is not simply a matter of privacy, but of academic freedom and human liberty,” Snowden said.