Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who leaked documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post, was reportedly staying at the luxurious Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon until he checked out on Monday morning.
Twitter was rife with speculation as to Snowden’s whereabouts once it was revealed that he was in Hong Kong (pity the poor hotel receptionists). An “elegant bedside lamp” eventually gave the whistleblower’s exact location away, as journalists recognised it as being in the Mira:
On Monday afternoon two employees at Hong Kong’s £42m Mira hotel confirmed to The Daily Telegraph that a man called Edward Snowden had been staying at the 492-room luxury hotel in Kowloon.
“He checked out today,” said one staff member, who declined to be named.
The Mira would have made a comfortable, if expensive, place to lie low. A brochure describes the hotel as “a living, breathing sophisticated space” which promises to “pamper the mind, body and spirit of the fast-living urban traveller”. Once a week the hotel hosts “Champagne Tuesday” at which guests quaff HK$100 glasses of champagne to the sound of “cool French jazz”.
The Wall Street Journal may have scared Snowden out of his swanky hiding place, journalists at the paper reportedly rang the Mira 10 minutes before Snowden decided to check out.
Snowden’s current whereabouts are unknown, as are his next moves. Kommersant, a Russian newspaper, cited Kremlin sources on Tuesday saying that will “consider” a request for asylum, should Snowden make one.
If the whistleblower does claim asylum anywhere, it will most likely be in Hong Kong. The Global Post’s Ben Carlson explains why this will buy him time with both the Chinese and American authorities:
Hong Kong’s asylum system is currently stuck in a state of limbo that could allow Snowden to exploit a loophole and buy some valuable time.
Simon Young, director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, told GlobalPost that a decision delivered by Hong Kong’s High Court in March of this year required the government to create a new procedure for reviewing asylum applications.
Until the government does this, he said, asylum seekers are allowed to stay in Hong Kong indefinitely.
In other words, should Snowden apply for asylum, then even if the US made a valid extradition request and Hong Kong was willing to comply he could not be deported until the government figured out a new way to review asylum cases — a potentially lengthy process.
Snowden’s avowed first choice of refuge, Iceland, may not be an option for him. Though MP and Wikileaks campaigner Birgitta Jónsdóttir has promised to lobby the government on Snowden’s behalf, it is unlikely that Iceland’s new conservative government would look favourably on harbouring a fugitive, particularly one who would cause such damage to US-Iceland relations.
[Image credit: The Mira // Timeline created by Henry Williams, AJ Libunao, and Joanne Lam]