Edward Snowden

Actor who played Edward Snowden makes video appeal to help Hong Kong asylum seekers

Joseph Gorden-Levitt says families ‘put themselves at risk’ in sheltering former US intelligence contractor and have ‘really difficult’ life in city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 4:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 10:04pm

The actor who played Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone’s film about the US intelligence whistle-blower launched a video Thursday describing the plight of the Hong Kong asylum seekers who sheltered the former NSA contractor in the city in 2013 and calling for donations to help them.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt said in the video released at around 2am local time that Snowden “hid in a sort of unlikely place” while in Hong Kong.

Watch: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s appeal for donations

“He hid with a handful of refugees” from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, the actor said in the two-and-a-half minute video. “These four people and their families really put themselves at risk in order to help Snowden when he really needed help.”

Gordon-Levitt, who played the title role in Oliver Stone’s Snowden, said that while the former US intelligence contractor was able to get out of Hong Kong “these four folks and their families are still there and they’re actually living in a really tough situation”.

Last month it emerged that a Filipino family as well as a family and a man from Sri Lanka helped Snowden when he was in the city in 2013. Snowden had just fled his native United States and revealed classified documents showing mass online surveillance conducted by the US and other governments. He was granted asylum in Russia, where he still lives.

In his video, Gordon-Levitt described life as a refugee in Hong Kong as “really difficult ... They don’t have enough support themselves, but they’re also legally not allowed to work. And if they went home they would face way worse situations”.

At the end of the video, the actor and filmmaker called for donations for the Hong Kong-based asylum seekers who helped Snowden, mentioning a fundraising campaign that aims to raise 100,000 euros. Gordon-Levitt said he was going to make a donation, but did not say how much.

“For those of us who are really grateful for what Snowden did for our country and really for the whole world, I think this would be a nice way of saying thanks,” he said.

The online campaign that started on October 5 had raised 16,156 euros (HK$136,622) as of 4pm Thursday.

Earlier this month, the Sunday Morning Post reported that Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras donated US$20,000 to the asylum seekers who sheltered the former NSA contractor in the city.

Robert Tibbo, Snowden’s lawyer in Hong Kong, said the asylum seekers have faced several difficulties.

The Canadian barrister said the International Social Service, entrusted by Hong Kong authorities to provide assistance locally to asylum seekers, has refused to fulfil their basic needs.

Release of Snowden film in Hong Kong may illuminate situation of asylum seekers

He said that when Filipino Vanessa Rodel asked for support to move to a new flat, the social services organisation asked her about the help she gave Snowden.

A four-year-old girl and an adult woman should not be exposed to a sex trade business made at their door
lawyer Robert Tibbo on Vanessa Rodel

“Vanessa moved to a new place on October 4 and none of that has been paid by the International Social Service,” Tibbo said. “They refused to pay for her deposit and the advanced one month rent. They were very clear on that.”

Rodel and her daughter used to live in a subdivided flat adjacent to a brothel, he added.

“In my view a four-year old girl and an adult woman should not be exposed to a sex trade business made at their door in a subdivided flat,” he continued. “ISS-HK should have intervened to protect the little girl and the family. But they have done the opposite.”

Tibbo said the organisation was later willing to assist Rodel, but “at this stage they are not paying anything”.

Earlier this month, an ISS-HK spokeswoman told the Post that it did not withhold assistance.

Hong Kong campaigners, asylum seekers to demand US presidential pardon for Edward Snowden

“We would like to reassure that we have been offering accommodation, food, clothing and toiletries, transportation, utilities assistance (electricity and gas) to Ms Rodel since she signed a contract with us till now,” the spokeswoman said.

Tibbo added that ISS-HK “has provided some assistance, but it refused to pay the full rent and the full electricity bills and it still does not provide enough food” to the other individuals who supported Snowden.