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NSA leaker is free man in HK-for now

Agencies | Updated: 2013-06-12 18:42


Sources at Hong Kong law firms have said Snowden has approached human rights lawyers in the city and may be digging in his heels for a legal fight in preparation for the United States laying charges against him.

Snowden, who admitted he disclosed classified information about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programmes to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers, is likely to face charges, possibly under the Espionage Act enacted in 1917, experts in the United States have said.

Under Hong Kong laws, an espionage charge could potentially find equivalence under its Official Secrets Ordinance.

The offence of "unlawful use of computers" meanwhile, is included in the list of offences in the extradition treaty between Hong Kong and the United States, and could potentially be used as grounds for extradition, legal experts say.

Either way, should Snowden face a formal extradition bid, he could challenge this in a Hong Kong court, and concurrently make a claim for political asylum in what could be a protracted legal battle that could drag out for months, if not years.

"The extradition system if it's engaged, follows strict procedures laid down by the law and that's supervised by the courts," said prominent Hong Kong barrister Philip Dykes.

Another barrister and extradition expert in Hong Kong who declined to be named said even if proceedings were fast tracked by the US and Hong Kong governments and Snowden were arrested, he would have the right to habeas corpus - to be brought before a local court to demand release from unlawful detention.

Geoffrey Robertson, a leading London-based lawyer who has advised WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in an ongoing extradition case, said Snowden could argue he had not put lives at risk and was a political refugee. But he could consider moving out of Hong Kong.

Speaking after Russia said it would consider granting asylum to the American, Robertson told Reuters: "Mr Snowden would doubtless be safe-but-sorry in North Korea and might find refuge in Russia. A more pleasant environment would be New Zealand where he could join Kim Dotcom in resisting extradition."

Kim Dotcom is the founder of the Megaupload file sharing site, who is fighting extradition to the United States to face online piracy charges.

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