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Asylum seekers who helped Edward Snowden ‘degraded’ by Hong Kong authorities, says whistleblower’s lawyer

The asylum seekers that gave refuge to whistleblower Edward Snowden were targeted by the Hong Kong government after Oliver Stone’s film on the subject exposed them, according to Snowden’s lawyer.

Robert Tibbo told guests at the April 5 club lunch that even the families of those asylum seekers were questioned and harassed by police in Sri Lanka after the film Snowden was released. Similarly, Sri Lankan police followed the asylum seekers in Hong Kong, Tibbo said. The three were brought onto the stage at the FCC to applause from the audience as Tibbo revealed that an asylum application for the trio was currently with immigration authorities in Canada, his home country.

Watch Robert Tibbo’s talk

Tibbo, who is based in Hong Kong and represents asylum seekers in the city, was critical of the Hong Kong government for not protecting the refugees after they were revealed to have helped Snowden during his short stay in Hong Kong in 2013. He said: “I think the Hong Kong government wants my clients out of Hong Kong. It’s quite clear that the Hong Kong government has treated my clients in an inhumane and degrading way.”

The three refugees that gave Edward Snowden refuge in Hong Kong. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The three refugees that gave Edward Snowden refuge in Hong Kong. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

In June 2013, former US government contractor Snowden released a swathe of secret documents revealing the extent of America’s mass surveillance of its own citizens. He immediately left the United States and came to Hong Kong, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

Tibbo explained that after Snowden arrived in Hong Kong, contrary to popular belief, he was not a fugitive from justice because he had not committed a crime in the city and there was no extradition request from America at that time. Tibbo said that with the very real threat of Snowden being arrested – or renditioned – while in Hong Kong he decided the best way forward was to “hide Mr Snowden in plain sight”. So Snowden left the Mira Hotel where he had been secretly holed up and was given refuge by the city’s “marginalised” asylum seekers.

During his speech Tibbo played video clips from the Edward Snowden documentary, Citizen Four, in which he can be heard on the telephone discussing how to get Snowden to the Hong Kong branch of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to help protect him. Tibbo revealed that he remains own touch with Snowden, who is still in Russia and is working with the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Tibbo denied reports that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, had agreed to hand Snowden over to the new U.S. president Donald Trump.



Human Rights Press Awards

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The Human Rights Press Awards are run by the FCC, Amnesty International Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association. The ceremony took place in May 2017. Click here to see the winners.