Hongkongers expressed shock, awe and even a slight twinge of disappointment as they learned US whistle-blower Edward Snowden had left the city on Sunday morning on a flight bound for Moscow.
The former National Security Agency contractor had left on his own accord for a “third country” through a “lawful and normal channel”, Hong Kong authorities said, after Snowden had been holed up in the city for more than a month.
His departure was met with mixed response on Sunday. The government appeared to have been relieved. New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee told the New York Times that Hong Kong officials would finally be able to “breathe a sigh of relief” despite having obviously irked the US.
“I hope the [US government] will shrug it off, because our government acted in accordance with the law,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Twittersphere was abuzz with comments about the government’s handling of Snowden’s case since he went public on June 10 via The Guardian newspaper.
One journalist tweeted:
So Hong Kong receives extradition request, asks for more information and lets Snowden leave immediately? So much for HK rule of law.
— John Gapper (@johngapper) June 23, 2013
In an interview with the South China Morning Post earlier this month, Snowden said he had “faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law”.
“Helpless and useless HK government. As a Hongkonger, I am extremely disappointed,” one reader said in the comments section of a Snowden story on SCMP.com.
“Guess he didn’t trust Hong Kong as much as he said he did,” another reader with the name jashlhk wrote.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the government said they were not given sufficient information to process the request for Snowden’s arrest and there was no legal basis to restrict him from leaving Hong Kong.
But not all felt Hong Kong had failed Snowden. Some praised the government for “playing a good hand” and allowing Snowden to leave while turning down a US request to detain him.
"Good job by the government, screw the NSA," one person tweeted.
While Snowden’s choice to escape to Hong Kong had both baffled and flattered the city for weeks, the ex-CIA contractor received widespread support from the citizens. This was seen in a public opinion poll commissioned by the Post that showed 33 per cent considered him hero, compared with 13 per cent who considered him a traitor.
Hundreds took the streets on June 15 in support of Snowden, marching amid heavy rain from Chater Garden to government headquarters chanting slogans such as “No big brother state” and “Team Edward”.
With Hong Kong’s 15 minutes of fame now possibly over, many netizens took to social media to bid farewell to what is still the world’s most wanted ex-spy.
“Just imagine the days without our Snowden, how boring it will be! Mr Snowden we will miss and appreciate your revelations,” one reader commented on the Post’s Facebook page.
Wild theories, both serious and humourous, of why Snowden had left the city began swirling on forums and social media including the likes of: “Snowden left Hong Kong and is headed for Moscow, probably to watch the Rugby 7s World Cup this week” and “Snowden can’t stand Hong Kong’s hot and humid weather!”
As for the media, the absence of Snowden would put an obvious calm to what has been an exciting three weeks. Twitter-user and journalist @beijingscribe summed it up succinctly:
HK-based reporters sigh with relief. He's Moscow bureau problem now... .#snowden
— Shai Oster (@beijingscribe) June 23, 2013