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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 7:56pm
Edward Snowden
CommentInsight & Opinion

With Snowden case, Hong Kong must keep faith in its values and freedoms

Stephen Vines says Snowden's case should be decided by law, not politics

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 1:41am

Is there anything left to say about Edward Snowden's flight to Hong Kong in the wake of his allegations about US cyberspying? The answer is yes, because some outstanding matters remain to be clarified and other aspects have been unintentionally revealing.

First, we are confounded by the extreme reluctance of the people who run Hong Kong to claim any credit for Snowden's two main stated reasons for coming here; namely freedom of expression and rule of law.

Second, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who happened to be in New York when this story broke, provided unintended confirmation of his subservience to the bosses in Beijing because, in the face of repeated questioning, he was rendered speechless in addressing this matter. Either he was waiting for orders or was fearful of deviating from the party line.

Third, we yet again found that the people of Hong Kong were well ahead of their leaders. If opinion polls are to be believed, a majority clearly support sanctuary for Snowden, a whistle-blower they believe performed a public service. Moreover, the public has started asking the right questions about the information he disclosed.

Meanwhile, Snowden has not really given a coherent explanation of why he came here. Hong Kong is hardly unique in having rule of law or freedom of expression, and it is an adjunct to a one-party-ruled state that puts whistle-blowers in prison and has little tolerance for free speech. So what really made Hong Kong so compelling?

Naturally the bosses in Beijing can hardly contain their delight over revelations of massive cybersnooping by the US, at a time when Washington is self-righteously making precisely the same accusations against China.

However, it seems more than likely that now Snowden has served his purpose, he can expect little by way of protection from Beijing. Most shrewd observers of US-China relations are convinced Beijing would like him off the premises as soon as possible.

This brings us to an important consideration about Hong Kong itself. Even during colonial times, when it was run by officials looking to impress their masters in London, the colony provided refuge to overseas dissidents. Sun Yat-sen and the Philippines' nationalist hero Jose Rizal come to mind. More recently, we saw how Hong Kong became the primary exit point and organising base for the escape of dissidents in the wake of the 1989 crackdown on the mainland.

In this and other ways, Hong Kong has established its role as a sanctuary and middleman for the cause of freedom every bit as persuasively as it has established the same role in business.

No one should underestimate the awkwardness of this middleman role, but it has served Hong Kong well and will continue to do so if the qualities cited by Snowden are maintained. Yet both the supremacy of rule of law and tolerance of freedom of speech are undermined and questioned by the Hong Kong government, which presumably explains its silence in this matter.

It is worth restating that the integrity of the judiciary can hardly be sustained by repeated attempts to refer, or threats to refer, its decisions to Beijing for so-called "reinterpretation". Equally, freedom of expression is tested most when large masses of people gather to protest. These freedoms start to shrivel when doubt is cast on the right of citizens to gather and the police are increasingly mobilised for political reasons.

Coming back to the specifics of the Snowden case, it seems Hong Kong can do itself a lot of good by making absolutely sure that this is dealt with by applying the law without any form of intervention from above. In the event that the US makes an extradition request, there is absolutely no need to go anywhere other than the courts.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur


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This article is now closed to comments

Actually, the HK officials handled the whole affair admirably. Unlike Mr. Vines, they have to consider the many factors at play before just shooting off their mouths. Sometimes the best comment is “no comment.” Adapting a low profile approach protects Snowden from charges that he is a spy for China as **** Cheney was quick to claim. Adherence to the law allows the delay of extradition proceedings until Mr. Snowden and his lawyers can decide on his final destination, which was originally not Hong Kong, but Iceland. If you believe that Mr. Snowden is a hero, as I do, then surely you must consider his long term welfare as more important than reaping some kind of propaganda dividend for Hong Kong.
hard times !
As a tourist from Hawaii and stayed at the 4-star hotel Mira Hotel since 21st May to June 11th (totally 22 days) and had to spend some money on food and drinks as well during this period, Hong Kong has gained some money from him as a visitor (the same identity as now since he has not committed any offence in Hong Kong yet). Right ? We Hongkongers would never want to make money out of someone's plight---leaving his well-paid job and family plus his grilfriend while placing his trust on we Hongkongers and our 'rule of law' in his upcoming extradition court hearings.
hard times !
Snowden is here to seek a refuge or an asylum only and by the way,making use of the communciations of Hong Kong to tell the whole world the nasty acts committed by the National Security Agency of America in cyber-spying other nations (and our beloved Hong Kong as well) even their students are no exemption.If you want to make money of him ---a benefactor to most Hongkongers here(except those blind loyalists of the bossy Americans of course)--you can shoot a film (being a director or screenwriter or even the producer if you were rich enough) about the whole saga. Okay ?
hard times !
yeah,the Snowden case has no other places to go than our courts which uphold our 'rule of law'.I much appreciate the pointing-outs of Mr.Vines that Hong Kong is used to serve as a sancturary for dissidents since the last century: we had our National Father stayed here to plan for his revolutions and Philippine's national father,Rizal here to carry out his medical practice before returning to his homeland and not to say, in 1989,Hong Kong served as a middleman and temporary sanctuary for the fleeing democracy-supporting students and citizens of Chna.Now Snowden should receive the same treatment---no extradition for political reason. We should observe 'rule of law' and nothing else---no political consideration or intervention as suggested by the 'Global Times' owned by the People's Daily.
The real issue is: how can we make some money out of him?
The real issue is: how can we make money out of him?


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