By a 3-to-1 margin, Hong Kongers do not want their government to hand over NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden if Washington demands his extradition.
Whether it is because they support Mr. Snowden’s free-speech and privacy agendas, or because they are upset by his claims that the US National Security Agency has been hacking into Hong Kong’s computer network, 49.9 percent of people asked in a poll published here Sunday said he should not be surrendered. Another 17.6 percent said he should be turned over. A third of respondents had not made up their minds.
“Nobody welcomes a fugitive, but now he is here we have to safeguard his rights,” said Freddy Chu, a young privacy activist, as he brandished a photo of Snowden at a small rally in support of the American in central Hong Kong on Saturday.
Snowden is believed to be in hiding somewhere in Hong Kong, from where he divulged his identity to The Guardian newspaper a week ago. Since then, in an interview with the South China Morning Post, he has accused the NSA of hacking into the backbone of Hong Kong’s Internet system.
“He is welcome to Hong Kong,” said another demonstrator, James Hon, as he helped hold up a banner belonging to the League in Defense of Hong Kong’s Freedoms. “He is upholding our core values – freedom of expression and privacy. He is a brother.”
Snowden’s presence here puts the former British colony in a difficult spot, potentially subject to pressure from both Washington and Beijing. For the time being, the United States has not lodged an extradition request and Chinese officials have not tipped their hand about what they think should happen to Snowden. But many Hong Kongers are uncomfortable.
That may explain the low turnout at Saturday’s demonstration outside the US consulate. Persistent rain did not help, but few people here see Snowden’s fate as very important to their own lives.
Still, his suggestions that the NSA has been hacking in Hong Kong have won him a measure of sympathy. “When we learned that they had hacked into our Internet hub at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, all of us with a computer felt we had been targeted,” said Yves Azemar, a French expatriate dealer in rare books.
Snowden’s presence here also draws international attention to Hong Kong’s unique status as a “special administrative region” of China, where the rules are very different from the mainland.
“This is a golden opportunity for Hong Kong to explain to the world … that we still enjoy judicial autonomy,” says Alan Leong, a legislator and head of the pro-democracy Civic Party. “It’s a chance to say how proud we are that Snowden chose Hong Kong as a refuge.”