Hong Kong residents would oppose any demand for extradition of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who fled to the city after exposing a U.S. surveillance program, according to a poll published today.
Almost 50 percent of 509 respondents oppose or strongly oppose returning Snowden should the U.S. make a formal request, showed a survey commissioned by the Sunday edition of the South China Morning Post, and carried out by the Centre for Communication and Public Opinion Survey at Chinese University.
Waving banners calling for the protection of free speech, and chanting slogans such as “NSA has no say,” about 200 protesters yesterday marched to the U.S. consulate and the Hong Kong government headquarters, demanding city leaders protect the one-time Central Intelligence Agency technical assistant.
“People will not be very happy if all the decisions are made by Beijing,” said Willy Wo-lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “It’s being seen as a highly symbolic case whereby Hong Kong should be able to make up its own mind regarding whether to surrender or extradite Snowden back to the U.S.”
Should Snowden be charged or indicted, the U.S. would be required to present probable cause to Hong Kong authorities. Under a 1996 treaty, the State Department would then make a formal extradition request, and Hong Kong officials would decide whether to comply. China, which took back sovereignty of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, can refuse extradition in cases related to defense or foreign affairs.
Hong Kong will handle Snowden’s case according to the laws and procedures of the city “when the relevant mechanism is activated,” Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said yesterday in a statement on the government’s 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,” he said.
The South China Morning Post said 17.6 percent of those polled replied that Snowden should be handed over to the U.S. The remainder of respondents declined to comment or had not formed an opinion, the newspaper said.
The survey, which was conducted in Chinese on June 13-14, found that 33 percent of people viewed Snowden as a hero while 12.8 percent described him as a traitor, according to the report.