HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong was silent Saturday on whether a former National Security Agency contractor should be extradited to the United States now that he has been charged with espionage, but some local legislators said the Chinese government should decide.
Edward Snowden, believed to be holed up in Hong Kong, has admitted providing information to the news media about two highly classified NSA surveillance programs.
It is not known if the U.S. government has made a formal extradition request — a process that could take years, and the Hong Kong government had no immediate reaction to the charges against Snowden. Police Commissioner Andy Tsang told reporters only that the case would be dealt with according to the law. A police statement said it was “inappropriate” for the police to comment on the case.
When China regained control of Hong Kong in 1997, the former British colony was granted a high degree of autonomy and granted rights and freedoms not seen on mainland China. However, under the city’s mini constitution Beijing is allowed to intervene in matters involving defense and diplomatic affairs.
Outspoken legislator Leung Kwok-hung said Beijing should instruct Hong Kong to protect Snowden from extradition before his case gets dragged through the court system. Leung also urged the people of Hong Kong to “take to the streets to protect Snowden.”
Another legislator, Cyd Ho, vice-chairwoman of the pro-democracy Labour Party, said China “should now make its stance clear to the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) government” before the case goes before a court.
China has urged Washington to provide explanations following the disclosures of National Security Agency programs which collect millions of telephone records and track foreign Internet activity on U.S. networks, but it has not commented on Snowden’s status in Hong Kong.
Another disclosure came late Saturday when the South China Morning Post reported on its website that Snowden claimed the NSA hacked Chinese cell phone companies to steal SMS data. The paper also said, without citing any source, that Snowden was “safe” in Hong Kong and not in police custody.
Snowden claimed to have supporting documents of the text-message hacking, the paper said, though its report did not explain his alleged evidence. He spoke to the paper in a June 12 interview.
A formal extradition request to Hong Kong could drag through appeal courts for years and would pit Beijing against Washington at a time China tries to deflect U.S. accusations that it carries out extensive surveillance on American government and commercial operations.
Snowden told the Post in the same interview that he hoped to stay in the autonomous region of China because he has faith in “the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate.”
A prominent former politician in Hong Kong, Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party, said he doubted whether Beijing would intervene yet.
“Beijing would only intervene according to my understanding at the last stage. If the magistrate said there is enough to extradite, then Mr. Snowden can then appeal,” he said.
Lee said Beijing could then decide at the end of the appeal process if it wanted Snowden extradited or not.
The criminal complaint unsealed Friday in a U.S. federal court alleged Snowden engaged in two violations of the Espionage Act and committed theft of government property. All three crimes carry a maximum 10-year prison term.
If formal extradition is pursued, Snowden could contest it on grounds of political persecution.
Hong Kong lawyer Mark Sutherland said that the filing of a refugee, torture or inhuman punishment claim acts as an automatic bar on any extradition proceedings until those claims can be assessed.
“Some asylum seekers came to Hong Kong 10 years ago and still haven’t had their protection claims assessed,” Sutherland said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
A Canfield student is competing on national television Saturday for $100,000 in tuition money.
Allegiant Airlines will begin charging a fee for printing boarding passes beginning May 1, 2014.
Several hundred fans made the trip to Massillon to cheer on the Youngstown Cardinal Mooney football team as it went for its ninth state championship.
A Salem woman was arrested on a drug charge after a raid at her home on Thursday.
After 40 years, Dr. Richard Billak, who started the Community Corrections Association, is retiring at the end of December.
A group of local drug store workers spent part of their day giving back to some of the area's less fortunate.
The Youngstown Air Reserve Station confirmed Friday that the "Thunder Over the Valley" air show will return in the spring.
Students from Leonard Kirtz School were at Pioneer Farm in Poland on Friday, picking out some Christmas trees for U.S. service members.
Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Students from Youngstown schools enter their artwork for the recycling calendar contest in hopes that it will make it into the calendar.
This weekend, a benefit will be held for a Trumbull County woman who lost her home after a car crashed into it, knocking the home off its foundation.
The Mahoning County Coroner's office has finally been able to identify the remains of Jacqueline Rowe of Youngstown, who was last seen in July of 1996.
On Thursday, humane agents found a young pitbull terrier mix locked inside of a room at a home at 88 Elliot St. on Youngstown's East Side.
Better weather Saturday with another storm system moving in by Sunday afternoon.
Two local communities, Youngstown and Hubbard, have set holiday parades for Saturday.
A New York pastor, who used to live and preach in Mercer, Pa., has been charged with sexually abusing two young relatives.