Edward Snowden

Julian Assange intervenes to help Snowden get to Iceland

Wikileaks founder says he is brokering talks over possible asylum for Edward Snowden, but getting to Iceland will become a major problem

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 5:15am

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he is brokering talks between whistle-blower Edward Snowden and Iceland, the country where Snowden says he wants to seek asylum.

But any deal between Reykjavik and the former NSA contractor who revealed US surveillance secrets faces one key complication - Snowden, who celebrates his 30th birthday today, must travel to Iceland from Hong Kong before applying.

"We are in touch with Mr Snowden's legal team and have been, are involved, in the process of brokering his asylum in Iceland," Assange said.

Iceland's government also said it had held informal talks with an intermediary for Snowden over him seeking political asylum in the country, which had previously welcomed Assange.

The Post looked at some of the options Snowden could take to get from the concrete jungle of Hong Kong to the "land of fire and ice", as well as the risks the journey would pose.

There are no direct transport links between Hong Kong and Iceland, and all but one of the 50 or so cities with flights to Iceland are located in countries that have extradition agreements with the United States. That could put him at risk of arrest, even if he does not step off the plane.

"Yes it is dangerous," said Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah. "[Snowden] will need to find a place which won't immediately detain him."

A surrender request to the Hong Kong government from the US would prevent him from leaving the city in the first place. No such request is thought to be in place yet.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said last night that the government would continue to act on the Snowden affair in accordance with the law.

"Having consideration for diplomatic practice and the need for confidentiality, we will report to the public on the progress of our handling of the case at an appropriate time," Leung said.

Should Snowden make it on to a flight, the US could make a surrender request to the country he is travelling through, which could arrest him even if he did not pass through immigration. He could be arrested in a transit lounge or even on board a plane.

Even without a surrender request, local authorities can obtain a provisional arrest warrant, usually instigated by US authorities when a surrender request is in process, said Professor Simon Young Ngai-man, director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong.

"Having an extradition agreement [with the US], it's expected that these countries are mutually co-operative," said Young. "There's a risk [in travelling]."

"But the US authorities would have to have done the work and put in place the step to detain [Snowden]."

Research by the Post suggests one route that might offer a glimmer of hope for Snowden.

The only city offering flights to Iceland that is in a country without an extradition agreement is St Petersburg in Russia. Snowden could fly there via Almaty in Kazakhstan or the Russian cities of Moscow or Novosibirsk. He would require a Russian transit visa for a stay of more than 24 hours or if he went through more than one international airport.

Another possibility is that the country receiving Snowden could opt against sending him back to the US.

Simon Shen, director of the global studies programme at Chinese University, said a country receiving a political asylum-seeker could arrange for safe transport like a chartered plane, or ensure the safety of the person during transit.

"I cannot think of any countries - apart from ones obviously allied with the United States - who would deport [Snowden] straight back to the US," the academic said.

Although Iceland has a longstanding extradition treaty with the US, it has not been used to deport an American citizen before.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse