Hong Kong lawmakers urge Obama to 'tread very carefully' with Snowden case
Legco to debate Snowden case and hacking disclosures next week
Two pan-democratic lawmakers urged US President Barack Obama on Friday to stop all legal action against and “consider letting go” NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden who has taken refuge in Hong Kong.
They made the comments at a press conference at which they also made public a letter they have sent to Obama urging him to not allow "national security" claims to justify abuse of state power.
In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, Snowden, a 29-year-old former Central Intelligence Agency analyst, made the explosive claims that the US government had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland for years. He had earlier revealed that the US has been secretly collecting the phone and online data of its citizens for national security reasons.
In the 400-word letter, Claudia Mo Man-ching of the Civic Party and Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the NeoDemocrats, democratically elected members of the Legislative Council urged Obama to “tread very carefully and take into account the views of America’s democratic friends around the world.”
“President Obama probably wouldn’t want any stain ... on his political career,” said Mo.
Mo and Fan – members of the group Hong Kong First – stated in the letter that Snowden’s actions may be seen as similar to those of whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, a national security analyst, who in 1971 passed to The New York Times defence documents known as the Pentagon Papers that enabled the American public to better understand the challenges the US was facing in Vietnam War.
“I’m actually asking the United States not to even try to charge [Snowden],” Mo said. “Once they’ve actually set down the charges, they would need to start extradition proceedings with the Hong Kong government, and that would trigger another round of very complicated legal arguments.”
In the first place, the personal safety of Snowden has to be protected as he said he was feeling unsafe.
The letter wrote: “While we accept that Mr Snowden may be deemed to have contravened US law, we believe he may have done liberal democracy a service by stimulating serious discussion in many countries about the extent to which surveillance is acceptable in liberal, democratic societies.”
Mo also described Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying as having “no guts and no backbone” as he has stuck to the line “I am not commenting on individual cases” whenever he has been asked to comment on the Snowden case.
“He’d not even dare to ask Washington if Hong Kong was one of the targets hacked,” she said, adding that she suspected Leung might be waiting for orders from Beijing on what to do with Snowden.
“Many people in the US, Hong Kong and around the world might have had their privacy harmed by hacking activities... this involves an imperative moral principle,” Fan said.
The letter was to be sent via e-mail and post to the White House on Friday.
In addition to the lawmakers’ letter, numerous groups are planning a march to the US Consulate in Hong Kong to voice support for Snowden on Saturday afternoon.
Also on Friday, the Legislative Council annouced it would look into issues surrounding Snowden’s disclosures at a meeting next Wednesday.
Ma Fung-kwok, who requested the meeting, said he would ask the government how it would react to any US requests related to Snowden.
“There is an urgent need to explain to the public matters concerning a possible request for the extradition of Snowden,” said Ma, who represents the sports, performing arts, culture and publication sector.
He said he would also ask if the authorities had noticed any hacking into Hong Kong’s internet network since 2009, the time at which Snowden alleges the US launched hundreds of hacking operations agains the city and the mainland.