“I have had many opportunities to flee Hong Kong, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law”
Edward Snowden, the former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who exposed a secret surveillance programme, said on Wednesday he intended to stay on in Hong Kong and would continue to reveal what he saw as “criminality” in the actions of U.S. security agencies.
“My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate,” the 29-year-old, who left the U.S. on May 20, told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post in an interview, speaking from a “safe house”.
His decision to leave the U.S. for Hong Kong came as a surprise, considering that Washington has, in the past, closely cooperated with the Special Administrative Region (SAR) through an extradition treaty signed shortly before it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
But the whistleblower defended his decision, saying people “misunderstood” his intentions. “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” he said. “I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
“I have been given no reason to doubt your system,” Mr. Snowden added.
While the extradition treaty makes an exception for political cases, some of Hong Kong’s lawmakers have pointed out in recent days that Mr. Snowden’s best option to avoid returning to the U.S. would be to leave, considering that there have been no recent cases where extradition requests have been denied. The U.S., however, is yet to formally put in any request as it is still in the process of launching a criminal prosecution over the leaks.
Mr. Snowden’s fate could also depend on possible intervention by Beijing. While Hong Kong has its own independent judicial system, Beijing can intervene if it deems that a particular case directly affects “defence, foreign affairs, or essential public interest or policy.”
Diplomats say Beijing is, however, unlikely to openly antagonise the U.S. on this case, especially in light of the new leadership’s recent emphasis on charting “a new type” of relations. In any case, as it could take months, if not years, for the judicial system to process the case if the U.S. puts in an extradition request, Beijing is likely to tread cautiously.
The government here will also be wary of being seen as interfering in Hong Kong’s judicial process, with concerns about the rising influence of Beijing in the SAR sparking protests in recent years.
“Snowden’s positive view of Hong Kong no longer matches the reality,” Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai told the SCMP. The newspaper said local activists will carry out a march on Saturday, to voice their support for Mr. Snowden.