Happy birthday, Ed! Your gift? Espionage charges.
Federal prosecutors in the US have filed criminal charges, including espionage, against Edward Snowden, the contractor who leaked top secret documents about surveillance by the American government, and whose 30th birthday was on Friday. The US Department of Justice have asked authorities in Hong Kong, where Snowden is believed to be, to arrest him to face extradition to the US.
Snowden was charged with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”. According to the New York Times, the three charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 30 years.
Snowden was last seen in Hong Kong, where he is still believed to be hiding.
Under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous entity, with its own political system and its own laws, though the central government in Beijing has say over foreign relations and defence.
Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the US, which mainland China does not and has cooperated in the past with US officials seeking extradition. The extradition agreement contains an exception, however, for political offenses and Snowden’s legal team might claim that the charge of espionage is a political.
Snowden had previously indicated to the SCMP that he would stay in Hong Kong to fight extradition. He has also said that he would like to claim asylum in an internet freedom-friendly country, such as Iceland. An Icelandic businessman associated with Wikileaks, Julian Assange’s now largely defunct leaks organisation, has said that he has chartered a private plane that is ready to take Snowden to Iceland, according to the Telegraph.
Snowden can also claim asylum in Hong Kong, whose laws governing asylum seekers are currently in disarray after two high-profile decisions by its highest court on its refugee law. Snowden could conceivably stay in Hong Kong while the law is clarified or reformed by local lawmakers.
How likely is Beijing to interfere in the extradition? Consensus among China watchers seems to be that Beijing will play it cool. The Global Times, an ultranationalist mainland Chinese newspaper sometimes described as “the Fox news of China” published an editorial titled “Let Hong Kong decide Snowden’s fate”, though the editorial did also say that Hong Kong should allow Snowden to stay.
[Image: Hong Kongers demonstrate in support of Edward Snowden, Credit: Hong Wrong]