Edward Snowden

No gift: Snowden lawyer in Hong Kong denies that Russia will hand over whistle-blower to Trump

Robert Tibbo notes that Moscow recently approved a three-year visa extension for Snowden, which means he will be able to stay in country until 2020

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 6:50pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 11:16pm

Hong Kong barrister Robert Tibbo says reports that Russia may hand over whistle-blower Edward Snowden to the United States as a gift to President Donald Trump are baseless.

“Mr Snowden takes the view that there’s nothing to worry about,” Tibbo told the Sunday Morning Post. The Canadian barrister who represented Snowden when he was in Hong Kong in 2013 said he spoke to the former National Security Agency contractor last weekend.

EXCLUSIVE: Whistle-blower Edward Snowden talks to South China Morning Post

NBC reported on February 10 that US intelligence officers had collected information showing that Russia was considering turning over Snowden. The move, according to a senior American official quoted by the US network, would be one of various ploys to “curry favour” with Trump.

Snowden was in Hong Kong for about two weeks after he fled from the US. Although he filed a refugee claim in the city, the former contractor who leaked classified documents showing mass surveillance conducted by the US and other governments decided to leave Hong Kong for Moscow en route to Latin America. But because his passport was revoked, he remained stranded in Russia.

“Everybody in the world asks what would happen if Mr Snowden was extradited from Russia and handed to the US,” Tibbo said. But “it’s a complete stretch to report that. Quite frankly, it’s nonsense.”

The relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump has raised many questions over the past few months.

Treatment of refugees in Hong Kong is criminal, says Edward Snowden

Regardless of how the relationship between the two administrations unfolds, the fact is that Snowden’s visa was extended for three years on January 18, which means he is allowed to stay in Russia at least until 2020, Tibbo noted.

The lawyer spoke with the Post on the sidelines of a talk on Tuesday at the Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong, which the refugees who sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong also attended.

Tibbo shared with college students his views on the treatment of asylum seekers in one of the world’s wealthiest cities.

“The Hong Kong government has designed a system that allows asylum seekers to come in, but they are in similar circumstances of some in sub-Saharan Africa ... Their physical and psychological integrity is compromised,” he said.

As of December, there were 9,981 outstanding claims. Many have to wait several years in the city without being allowed to take any jobs. The few who are recognised are then referred for resettlement in a third country.

Answering to those who argue that Hong Kong has limited resources, Tibbo said that the local government had “enormous financial reserves, but it does not invest them in its people.”

Dominic Lee Tsz-king, the chairman of the Liberal Party’s youth committee and a Sham Shui Po district councillor, gave a talk on the same topic at the college at the end of last year.

Many compared the two contradictory speeches. “To be honest it was quite shocking to see that [Lee] bluntly refuses the idea that there is such a thing as an asylum seeker or a refugee in itself, and it’s quite disheartening to see that there is this type of ideology within the Hong Kong government,” 18-year-old Irish student Catherine Quinn said.

“Despite the law and the ideas you might support, there’s a sort of a responsibility as a human above that,” said Marjolijn van Raaij, 19, from the Netherlands.

Another student, Smriti Roy, 17, originally from India but raised in Hong Kong, said that there might be a “small number of people taking advantage” of the system.

However, she noted: “There is no excuse for Hong Kong to treat people like that ... I think Hong Kong has more of a capacity to take care of its own population as well as of populations coming in from outside of Hong Kong looking for opportunity or safety.”