BEIJING -- Edward Snowden, who says he leaked National Security Agency secrets, told Hong Kong media Wednesday that he intended to remain in the self-ruled Chinese territory and fight extradition to the United States.
"I have had many opportunities to flee Hong Kong, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law,” Snowden told the South China Morning Post in an interview. “My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate. I have been given no reason to doubt your system."
The interview was the first public word from the 29-year-old former U.S. government contractor since midday Monday, when he checked out of the Hong Kong hotel where he had been staying. On Sunday, Snowden had revealed himself as the primary source of unauthorized disclosures of highly classified U.S. telephone and Internet surveillance systems, calling America's spying capabilities "horrifying." He is now believed to be staying in a private home.
Other Hong Kong media reported as well that there was no indication from immigration authorities that Snowden had left Hong Kong, although in theory he is free to go as there are no outstanding charges against him.
Snowden’s strategy in Hong Kong appears to be a high-risk geopolitical play in a most unique place, where the British common law overlaps with the dictate of the Chinese Communist Party. The former British colony is a special administrative zone, which unlike mainland China, has an extradition treaty with the United States. But Beijing gets final say in cases where "surrender of a fugitive would harm defense, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy."
Despite the rivalry between the United States and China, and the mutual recriminations over hacking and cyber-espionage, few experts expect that Beijing would go out of its way to shelter Snowden.
"The Chinese leader is pretty new and has just had an amicable round of chats with President Obama," said Martin Lee, one of Hong Kong’s most respected democracy advocates and a senior lawyer.
Lee acknowledged that Snowden could keep the case tangled up in the courts for years if he presses his appeals. Snowden’s advocates are expected to argue that extradition to the United States could subject him to cruel and unusual punishment, citing the treatment of Bradley Manning, the army private accused of giving documents to Wikileaks.
Snowden might be counting on Hong Kong’s activists – who zealously treasure their rights to hold commemorative marches over the Tiananmen Square crackdown and to protest against China – to rally to his defense. Their involvement could make it a political headache for Beijing to kick him out.
Beijing faces powerful opposition from Hong Kong activists who allege the Chinese Communist Party is encroaching on the freedoms it promised.
Eleven activist groups are planning a rally Saturday in support of Snowden, with a number of prominent pro-democracy figures expected to speak.
In a preview of what may come, rally organizers Wednesday suggested slogans for posters such as: "Defend Free Speech, Protect Snowden"; "No Extradition"; "Respect Hong Kong Law"; "Shame on NSA"; "Stop Internet Surveillance"; and "Betray Snowden = Betray Freedom."