Edward Snowden

Hong Kong asylum seekers who sheltered Edward Snowden ‘in fear’ after reports Sri Lankan agents travelled to city to look for them

‘I don’t know what they would do, because they are cruel,’ says father of two

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 11:10pm

The asylum seekers who sheltered former US intelligence contractor turned whistle-blower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong have said they fear for their safety, after ­reports that Sri Lankan police had been in the city looking for them.

“I felt very scared and nervous ... maybe they can arrest me ... I don’t know what they would do, because they are cruel,” Supun Thilina Kellapatha said, describing his feelings after he was told about the presence of Sri Lankan agents in the city where he has filed a protection claim.

“I don’t feel stable. I walk on the road [and] I don’t know if the ­Criminal Investigation Department is there,” Kellapatha said.

In 2013, Snowden – who had just leaked sensitive US intelligence files – hid in Hong Kong, ­before heading to Russia, where he lives under asylum himself.

A Sri Lankan family of four – Kellapatha, his wife Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their two children – and Ajith Pushpakumara, a former soldier from the same country, sheltered him. They are all waiting for the government to screen their protection claims.

A Filipino asylum seeker, Van­essa Mae Rodel, who has a daughter, 4, also sheltered Snowden.

They spoke yesterday at a press conference organised by two pan-democrat legislators, Charles Mok and James To Kun-sun, who called on the government to investigate the case and protect the asylum seekers.

The five, who said they were afraid of being snatched back to their home country, planned to report the case to the police. Their lawyer, Robert Tibbo, said they had already reported the situation to the Immigration Department.

A spokesman confirmed they had received written statements from three asylum seekers last month. However, detailed information was not provided at the time and a meeting to discuss the issue is yet to be scheduled.

According to Tibbo, “multiple sources” in Hong Kong, including other asylum seekers and Sri Lankan residents, said agents from the Sri Lankan Police Criminal ­Investigation Department ­approached them on two separate visits, one in November and another at the end of December.

The Canadian barrister said at least two agents had been in possession of files on, and photos of, the asylum seekers.

One of the five also said officials in Sri Lanka had harassed, questioned and threatened family members still in the country.

According to Tibbo, the officials asked the relatives about the asylum seekers’ addresses and phone numbers as well as of their friends in Hong Kong.

The Sri Lankan honorary consul in the city could not be reached for comment.

The identity of the refugees, who housed Snowden for about two weeks, was only revealed last September.

The case is also raising additional concerns about illegal cross border activities in the city. Lawmaker To said: “We must protect the Hong Kong system from any abuse by foreign governments or foreign bodies.”

The reports came about a year after five Hong Kong booksellers vanished, later to turn up on the mainland, and a few weeks after the disappearance of billionaire Xiao Jianhua – sparking concerns over mainland agents acting in the city.

“Our fears as lawyers, with the Hong Kong government not holding, for instance, Beijing, accountable … is it serves as an open invitation to every other country in the world,” Tibbo said.