30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Hong Kong lawyer Albert Ho says 'middleman' urged Snowden to leave
Democrat met government official; Snowden's HK lawyers handled Libyan rendition case
Democratic Party lawmaker and lawyer Albert Ho Chun-yan revealed last night he was part of last-minute top-level discussions with the government on the fate of Edward Snowden.
The senior partner of Ho, Tse, Wai & Partners, said that acting on Snowden's instructions he met a top government official last Friday to discuss the American's situation and clarify some legal issues, but received an unsatisfactory response.
Ho said that at an unspecified time after the meeting, an informal message regarding Snowden's stay in the city was relayed to the whistle-blower through an intermediary. This coincided with US espionage charges being made public, forcing Snowden to make a decision on his movements.
Ho told reporters on Monday that an individual claiming to represent the Hong Kong government had indicated to Snowden that he was free to leave the city and should do so.
"By going through not entirely legal avenues, and using a person whose identity isn't entirely clear to tell [Snowden] that the government wants him to leave. This is a highly unusual action," he said.
“I have reasons to believe that... those who wanted him to leave represented Beijing authorities,” Ho said.
“The Hong Kong government has no power to decide or say anything whatsoever, not even the power to notify me [about an official stance],” said Ho.
“Bejing would not step forward to the front stage because it will affect Sino-US relations. So, it would operate behind the scenes to make Snowden go. The Hong Kong government may not have had any role other than not stopping him at the airport.”
Sources with knowledge of the government's handling of the case had said on Sunday that Ho was giving his interpretation and version of events, adding that the government had handled the matter in accordance with the law.
Ho's involvement came as members of Snowden's legal team went public for the first time yesterday. Two Hong Kong lawyers with extensive experience in human rights cases - including the secret 2004 rendition of a Libyan man and his family from Hong Kong to Tripoli by US and UK spies - spoke to the Post.
Barrister Robert Tibbo and solicitor Jonathan Man Ho-ching confirmed they were brought in to represent Snowden about two weeks ago and kept in close contact with the whistle-blower.
"Snowden left Hong Kong through legal, legitimate means and the proper immigration channels," Tibbo told the South China Morning Post. "We have been acting for Snowden for the past two weeks."
Snowden is wanted by the US government on charges of espionage and theft after leaking classified documents detailing extensive cyberspying networks by the National Security Agency.
Man, an associate at Ho, Tse, Wai & Partners, is part of the legal team planning to sue the Hong Kong government over its role in the rendition of a Libyan dissident and his family to Tripoli.
Sami al-Saadi claims that security officials in Hong Kong conspired with US, British and Libyan spies in his illegal extradition to Libya. He says Hong Kong authorities detained him and his family for almost two weeks and forced them on to a private jet to Tripoli via Bangkok in March 2004 where they were tortured and persecuted.
Additional reporting by Reuters and AFP