Hong Kong civic groups will today march in support of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who is at risk of extradition from the city after he revealed a secret U.S. surveillance program.
About 200 people are expected to attend the demonstration, the South China Morning Post reported today, citing one of the organizers. “We ask the U.S. government not to seek extradition of Snowden because he isn’t an offender,” Leung Kwok-hung, a Hong Kong lawmaker and chairman of the League of Social Democrats, said this week.
Snowden has said he was the source for Guardian and Washington Post newspaper reports last week on the NSA’s collection of telephone and Internet data, prompting U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to call the 29-year-old a traitor. The revelations sparked a debate on the extent of state surveillance of citizens, while raising the prospect the U.S. will seek Snowden’s extradition and prosecution.
The people of Hong Kong have “a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” Snowden told the Guardian, explaining why he fled to the city from the U.S. before revealing himself as the source. He separately told the Washington Post that he intends to ask for asylum from “any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy.”
The march will start at 3 p.m. at Chater Garden in Central district, proceeding to the U.S. consulate and Hong Kong government headquarters, the English-language Post newspaper said. Heavy rain forecast by the government observatory may put a damper on the protest.
Following his disclosures, the Senate Intelligence Committee will consider legislation to limit government contractors’ access to sensitive data, panel Chairman Dianne Feinstein said after a closed briefing with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. House Intelligence Committee leaders meanwhile are examining whether Snowden had foreign help, Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, the committee chairman, said on June 13.
Snowden said in an interview with the Guardian that while he expects to see retribution that could include prosecution for his actions he went public to spark a broader debate about privacy in an age of terrorism.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of things,” Snowden said. The Guardian has reported he checked out of his Hong Kong hotel and may be hiding at a safe house after leaving the U.S. May 20.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in an interview with Bloomberg Television the city will handle the case according to the law. He declined to elaborate on Snowden’s situation, or respond on whether China may make a decision on whether to send him back to the U.S.
“Hong Kong has no say whatsoever,” Hong Kong lawmaker Ronny Tong said on Bloomberg Television yesterday. “That’s why you see our chief executive not saying anything at all. He is waiting instructions from Beijing. I think Beijing is sitting back, probably enjoying the moment, before deciding what they want to do next.”
Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA’s collection of telephone and Internet data provoked charges of hypocrisy among Chinese state media after President Barack Obama’s administration accused China in recent months of being behind a series of hacker attacks. The revelations may result in China seeking concessions if it’s to cooperate with any extradition request as part of a U.S. Justice Department probe into Snowden.
“China is going to cooperate with the U.S., but not for free,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. “China would like to get something in exchange.”
Since taking back control of Hong Kong from the U.K. in 1997, China has allowed the city to maintain broad autonomy and permits protests and dissent that would be stifled in the mainland. While Hong Kong would decide on any U.S. request to extradite Snowden, China can refuse the transfer if it’s related to defense and foreign affairs.
China is following developments in Snowden’s case, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing yesterday. She declined to comment when asked how China would respond to any U.S. extradition attempt.
“What cyberspace needs is not war or hegemony, not irresponsible attacks, but regulation and cooperation,” Hua said. She said China looks forward to more dialogue with the U.S. on cybersecurity.
Keywords related to Snowden’s name haven’t been banned on Sina Corp.’s Twitter-like Weibo microblog service, according to GreatFire.org, which monitors censored posts on the Internet.
Snowden was a former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency and had worked for the National Security Agency in the past four years for contractors including Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH:US), according to the Guardian and the Washington Post. In an interview with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Snowden said the U.S. had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009.
Hong Kong lawmakers will request a debate over cybersecurity when the Legislative Council meets next, on June 19, according to proceedings of the legislature’s House Committee broadcast on Cable TV yesterday.
Counterintelligence and criminal investigators in the U.S. are examining whether Snowden might have been recruited or exploited by China. The U.S. is working on “a thorough scrub” of Snowden’s possible ties to China, Representative Rogers told reporters in Washington yesterday.
While China probably doesn’t want Snowden to enter the mainland, it probably wants to talk to him, said Liu Weidong, a scholar at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
“It’s a good opportunity to learn something, to know something,” Liu said in a telephone interview yesterday. “They will want to know some detailed information from him.”
Snowden’s revelations put the U.S. in an embarrassing situation and have fueled a debate over the balance between personal freedom and national security, the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper said yesterday. In its editorial, the Global Times, also controlled by the party, said the Snowden case may test bilateral ties, adding that his revelations “upgraded our understanding of cyberspace.”
“The Chinese government should acquire more solid information from Snowden if he has it, and use it as evidence to negotiate with the U.S.,” the editorial said. “Snowden is a political offender against the U.S. but what he is doing benefits the world.”
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