June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Protesters marched to Hong Kong’s government headquarters demanding their leaders protect Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who fled to the city after exposing a U.S. surveillance program.
About 200 people, some carrying banners saying “Protect Free Speech” and chanting slogans such as “NSA has no say,” marched to the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong in the rain before making their way to the government building. Protesters blew whistles as a sign of solidarity with Snowden.
“We must not let anybody intervene, be it from Beijing or be it from Washington, because we have the rule of law,” Albert Ho, a legislator from Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, said to the protesting crowd. “Mr. Snowden should be given the right under our law to stay in Hong Kong.”
Snowden’s flight to Hong Kong after he exposed the NSA program may pose a challenge to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. China, which took back sovereignty of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, could refuse his extradition if it’s related to defense or foreign affairs.
Leung said today Hong Kong will handle Snowden’s case according to the laws and procedures of the city “when the relevant mechanism is activated,” according to a statement on the government website. Hong Kong will “follow up on any incidents related to the privacy or other rights of the institutions or people in Hong Kong being violated.”
The city’s legislature may also debate cybersecurity after Snowden told the South China Morning Post the U.S. had been hacking Hong Kong and China since 2009.
“What he’s doing is basically sacrificing his freedom to challenge such a powerful country,” said Eason Chung, the student union president at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who took part in the protest. “He is telling the world your privacy and human rights are being invaded by the U.S.”
The ultimate decision over Snowden’s fate may lie in Beijing. In editorials yesterday, China’s government-controlled media said the nation should seek more information from Snowden and demand the U.S. explain itself over the surveillance program he exposed.
“Hong Kong has no say whatsoever,” Legislative Council member Ronny Tong said on Bloomberg Television yesterday. “That’s why you see our chief executive not saying anything at all. He is waiting for instructions from Beijing. I think Beijing is sitting back, probably enjoying the moment, before deciding what they want to do next.”
Protesters also demanded today that the U.S. government doesn’t extradite the former Central Intelligence Agency technical assistant.
“Snowden said he came to Hong Kong because it has a rich tradition of political dissent and freedom of speech and we’re going to demonstrate that,” said Tom Grundy, an activist who jointly organized the protest. “We’re all whistleblowers today.”
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.
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 Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters in Washington yesterday.
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