HONG KONG -- Chanting “No extradition” and “Shame on the U.S. government,” hundreds of people took to the rainy streets of Hong Kong on Saturday to voice solidarity with Edward Snowden and denounce the United States as a hypocritical “big brother” whose cyber-surveillance activities rival those of the Chinese government.
The protesters -- including several lawmakers as well as housewives, students and foreigners -- rallied in a park in the Central District, blowing whistles and carrying posters with slogans such as “Obama is checking your email” before marching uphill to the U.S. Consulate.
There, they delivered a letter to Consul General Stephen Young, urging that the U.S. cease sweeping monitoring of telephone and Internet communications around the world -- including, apparently, in Hong Kong.
“I’ve lived in Hong Kong 30 years, I’ve seen China slowly pull itself up by its bootstraps. Slowly, China will develop democracy. What kind of example is America giving to China?” said Peter Barker, a Briton who was among dozens of expatriates in the crowd. “It’s very disappointing. I’m so saddened. I’m disgusted.”
“America always talks about freedom, but Obama is not like this, we can see now,” said Bear Agnes Chung, a homemaker. “Ordinary people need to support what’s right.”
Snowden, 29, a former National Security Agency contract employee, has become a cause celebre of sorts in Hong Kong since he identified himself as the person who disclosed the secret U.S. surveillance program and took shelter in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
In interviews with a local newspaper, Snowden has said he chose to come to the former British colony because of its “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” but U.S. officials are investigating him and are expected to request his extradition.
While a treaty between the U.S. and Hong Kong allows for such handovers, the territory’s laws provide for some exceptions -- for example, in cases in which charges are seen as politically motivated or if a person would face torture. Complicating matters further, under the “one country, two systems” arrangement that governs relations between Hong Kong and mainland China, there remains a chance that authorities in Beijing could intervene in the process.
An opinion poll of Hong Kong residents published Saturday found that just over half of the respondents were "against" or "strongly against" the government surrendering Snowden to Washington if asked; 17.6% said he should be remanded. For the time being, though, Snowden remains free in Hong Kong and can legally stay up to 90 days.
After stopping at the consulate the protesters made their way down the road, through a shopping mall and across a highway overpass to the offices of Hong Kong’s chief executive, C.Y. Leung. They asked him to protest the U.S. surveillance program and urged him to ensure that Snowden is afforded all legal protections due under Hong Kong law.
“This episode marks a defining moment in [Hong Kong’s] history,” the protesters said in a letter. “Our response will determine the type of region we are and will indicate what we aspire to be.”
Leung has come under fire in the city for his muted response to the Snowden affair; asked about it during a visit to the United States this week, he stated repeatedly that he could not comment. Some have interpreted his silence as an indication that he is waiting on marching orders from Beijing, a sensitive matter in this city.
Yelling hoarsely in front of the government building, retired teacher James Hon denounced Leung.
“You are no longer our respected [chief executive]. Because in this important case, he dared to say he has no comment,” said Hon, a leader of the League in Defense of Hong Kong's Freedom, a group that often joins protests against the Hong Kong government. “He is so incompetent. How can we allow him to rule Hong Kong?”
Late Saturday, Leung issued a statement saying that if extradition was requested, the Hong Kong government would “handle the case of Mr. Snowden in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the government will follow up on any incidents related to the privacy or other rights of the institutions or people in Hong Kong being violated.”