Edward Snowden

US whistle-blower Edward Snowden slams Hong Kong government for ‘campaign’ against lawyer of families who housed him

Former intelligence contractor hits out on Twitter after learning of complaints filed against barrister Robert Tibbo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 9:45pm

American whistle-blower Edward Snowden has slammed the Hong Kong government online, accusing it of “mounting a campaign” against the lawyer representing the seven asylum seekers who sheltered him in Hong Kong in 2013.

Following news that the Immigration Department had filed complaints against Canadian barrister Robert Tibbo, Snowden took to Twitter a few hours later and wrote: “Hong Kong’s government is mounting a campaign to retaliate against the lawyer defending the families who helped me.”

Before boarding a flight that ultimately stranded him in Russia, US National Security Agency contractor Snowden was introduced to the families by their mutual lawyer in Hong Kong. He hid in their homes for a couple of weeks in 2013, after leaking classified documents that revealed surveillance practices by the United States and other governments.

Tibbo claimed on Monday that the local administration had “systematically made efforts” to remove him from the seven’s cases.

According to the lawyer, the director of the Immigration Department wrote to the Duty Lawyer Service, a government-backed legal assistance programme, on July 13, requesting that the office consider the reassignment of a lawyer to the seven asylum seekers.

The Immigration Department also filed a complaint on the same day with the Hong Kong Bar Association accusing Tibbo of a possible breach of the bar’s code of conduct.

Tibbo said the department accused him of having a conflict of interests and questioned his professional independence, given that he was the one who brought Snowden to the refugees’ homes.

An immigration department spokeswoman said it had “a legitimate duty to maintain [the] integrity” of the screening system for protection claims, as well as its appeal mechanism.

She said the government would alert professional bodies on individual matters of concern.

“Any referral is made in the light of the duty said above. It is not and should not be seen as targeting specific individuals.” she noted.

The group of asylum seekers – a Sri Lankan man, a couple also from Sri Lanka with two children aged one and five, and a Filipino mother with a five-year-old daughter – attended their first appeal hearings on Monday after having their protection claims rejected by the Hong Kong government in May.

Separate refugee claims were filed on their behalf in Canada in January.

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Arguing that the seven were in “an extremely vulnerable” situation in Hong Kong, their legal representatives announced on Monday that they would sue the Canadian government on Tuesday for not expediting their claims.

Following this news, Human Rights Watch in New York issued a statement calling on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration to “fast-track” the screening of the seven.

“The compassionate act of letting Edward Snowden into their homes should never have landed these families in peril,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “Hong Kong has failed to protect these families, who fear being returned to abusers who await them in the countries they fled.”

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The human rights organisation noted the possibility of having parents separated from their children if the families were detained.

“Canada should move quickly on these cases and safeguard these people from the prospect of detention and deportation,” PoKempner said.

“No one should have to risk return to torture or persecution because they opened their door to another who feared the same. Canada has a unique opportunity to provide these people and their children both safety and a future.”