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  • Sep 19, 2014
  • Updated: 1:18am
Edward Snowden
CommentInsight & Opinion

Why Edward Snowden would be better off back in Hong Kong

Mike Rowse says he could rely on Hong Kong's courts to do the right thing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 1:35am

Am I the only person in Hong Kong who thinks the best thing to happen next in the Edward Snowden saga would be for him to return to our city? Perhaps, but it wouldn't be the first time I have been in a minority of one.

The first reason I want him back is that I want to know more about the identity of the several hundred people whose e-mail accounts have been hacked and whose calls are being monitored by various US intelligence agencies.

Bearing in mind that this activity, while illegal under Hong Kong law, has apparently been "authorised" under US domestic legislation, surely the main point is that these people must (under the terms of that legislation) be suspected of links to terrorism. Up to this point I had not considered Hong Kong a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity, but if I am wrong then I think we are all entitled to know more.

Secondly, I would like to see a test of our extradition procedures and our arrangements for handling applications for political asylum. Before the friends of Snowden start to panic, let me assure them I can think of three very good reasons why a Hong Kong court should reject any request for his return to the US.

The first is the possibility of torture. The nearest comparable case in recent times is that of Bradley Manning, the US soldier now on trial for leaking thousands of confidential documents to WikiLeaks. Following his arrest, Manning was kept in solitary confinement for 11 months, and for long periods during that time was deprived of his clothes.

A UN report concluded that his treatment constituted torture. No Hong Kong judge worthy of the name could order extradition in a case where there was a significant risk of the prisoner being tortured.

The second question a judge would have to ask is whether the accused had a reasonable prospect of a fair trial. The serving US president, the previous vice-president and the current secretary of state, among others, have all stated explicitly or by implication that this man is a traitor who should be sent back to America. What reasonable prospect would there be of a fair trial in such circumstances?

Then there is the issue of a "public interest" defence. In broad terms, a whistle-blower can argue for acquittal if he can show that the benefit to society of revealing various activities outweighs the damage to the public interest of revealing official secrets. The US Patriot Act specifically excludes use of the public interest defence. However, that does not mean it could not be raised in a Hong Kong court.

Each of these three reasons may, by itself, constitute sufficient grounds to refuse extradition. Taken together, they could be overwhelming.

The public relations spin by US officials on the case is also very illuminating. One line of argument is that this is a minor matter, every government does this, everybody knows it goes on, no one can possibly be surprised, so what is all the fuss about.

The alternative approach is that this is an extremely serious matter; disclosing top secret details is treason, "people will die because of this" (that's an actual quote, used by several people), and he should be extradited immediately.

The interesting thing is that these lines have been used by the same people in the same conversation even though both cannot be true at the same time.

Unless … the position is that spying on Hong Kong people is a minor matter, while telling the truth about it is a serious matter because it shows America in a bad light.

Consul General Stephen Young has said it will take a long time to restore trust between the US and Hong Kong. I fear he is right, but not in the way he means.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk

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SpeakFreely
I would say Hk people is too complacent to worry other people biz. Don't we have tons of issue to deal w such as pollution, garbage handling, aging population, universal suffrage, health care, housing, coffin home...etc etc...be focus!
the sun also rises
among our existing problems,privacy protection and freedom of expression are two key issues to be focused on.Now our cybersecurity level is in doubt as the intrusions of the National Security Agency of America into our Internet Exchange since 2009 has been not noticed by the security staff at that Exchange ! It is due to the expertise of the elite hackers at that NSA ! It is known that nowadays,Germany's anti-virus softwares and anti-cybersurveillance products are among the best in the world. Maybe Hong Kong should consider buying such products to enhance our cybersecurity in the near future !
caractacus
Mike, it sounds like you want Edward Snowden to be a guinea pig for testing HK's extradition law. Not much logic there.
The stark reality is that he probably has nowhere left to run to. Even if Venezuela is willing to grant him asylum, how is he going to travel there?
He will probably end up returning to the USA.
Harold Cameron
I'm sure that Edward Snowdon would prefer to be in Hong Kong, but if he did return it would surely only be a matter of time before the US & China agreed his return to USA as part of a trade agreement & subsequently China would order Hong Kong to send him back to the US.
webbocybase
Giving unconditional asylum to a self-indulgent prig who deliberately set out to obtain government secrets in order to expose them would turn Hong Kong into a magnet for every traitor on the planet; and it would only be a matter of time before some "whistleblowers" from China turned up seeking similar treatment. Because if people don't think that our friends from the north are spying on Hong Kong people every day of the week they are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Wikileaks' involvement is instructive - being led by a man who is so keen for people to be held to account for their actions that as soon as he is accused of something illegal himself he does a runner to the Ecuadorian embassy!
stoatmonster
Extremely well said webbocybase. You've summed the whole issue up in a nutshell. I am really looking forward to the day when we see weasel Snowden go down for his crimes.
the sun also rises
Snowden is never a traitor as you accuse him to be.Instead, he is a people's hero who told the world that they have long been cyberspied by the NSA---a serious violation of privacy and breach of human rights---freedom of speech and it is also contrary to the 4th Amendment of the American Constitution ! This whistle-blower should be protected by the world people as said by the president of Bolivia
stoatmonster
Quite frankly, if Snowden were permitted to return to Hong Kong and face extradition proceedings, the right thing to do would be to honour the extradition treaty and return the weasel to the US to stand trial for his alleged crimes.
jayb
this is a foreign policy matter... out of HKG's hand...
stoatmonster
Absolute poppycock! Mr. Rowse and Mr. Snowden are cut from the same cloth: for self-serving reasons, both wanted to sell out on their countries of citizenship. One wanted to leak his country's secrets; the other to give up his nationality to become a citizen of China. A traitor is one who betrays one's country, a cause or a trust. If the cap fits, wear it!

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