Refugees who harboured US whistleblower Snowden ‘sought by Sri Lankan police in Hong Kong’
24 February 2017 10:02
Three Sri Lankan families who harboured US whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 say that the Sri Lankan authorities have entered the city to seek them out.
Their lawyer Robert Tibbo said that at least two Sri Lankan police officers from the Criminal Investigation Division visited Sri Lankan groups in Hong Kong to enquire as to their whereabouts. He said the officers confirmed their identities, and brought documents and photos of the three families during their last visit, according to a report from Ming Pao.
After Snowden gave a media interview at a Tsim Sha Tsui hotel exposing the extent of surveillance by the US National Security Agency in 2013, he was brought to the home of Sri Lankan refugees Supun and Nadeeka by Tibbo. He also stayed with Sri Lankan refugee Ajith and Filipino refugee Vanessa. For two weeks, the families sheltered him in their respective flats until he flew to Moscow, where he remains.
Photo: James To.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon at the Legislative Council building, the families involved expressed fear and anxiety, and said that they felt helpless, according to Apple Daily.
“We have multiple sources confirming yes, they were on the ground here,” Tibbo said. “Here, they were asking if they knew these people – they wanted to know where they lived, they wanted to meet them.”
According to one of the families, their immediate family members in Sri Lanka were also questioned, harassed and threatened by the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Division and government officials. They demanded the addresses and telephone numbers of certain people who sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong, a press release from Tibbo’s office said.
The families have moved out of their homes, and will contact the Hong Kong police to seek protection, the lawyer said.
He said that he hoped the world would pay attention to the matter, so as to exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government, adding that he has contacted Snowden, and he is also concerned about the matter.
Photo: James To.
The families are making arrangements to permanently relocate to Canada, Tibbo said.
Lawmaker Charles Mok said that law enforcement personnel in other countries must contact relevant individuals through the Hong Kong police if they want to conduct investigations in the city, according to Apple Daily. If the government ignored the claims of illegal cross-border law enforcement, he said, “Hong Kong would become an uncovered chicken cage.”
snowden in hong kong
Snowden stayed in Tai Kok Tsui, Kennedy Town and Sham Shui Po. Photo: Wikicommons.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To said in a press release that Hong Kong has always stood fast by One Country, Two Systems, and is committed to protecting its status as a safe city. Aside from Hong Kong’s own law enforcement agencies, no one can enforce the law in Hong Kong. He added that he will reflect the seriousness of the matter to senior government officials, and ask authorities to protect the families.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture found during a visit last year that a “culture of torture” persists among Sri Lankan security forces, who use torture and other ill-treatment against prisoners.
Sri Lanka ’hunting’ refugees who sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong
By Juliana Liu
Hong Kong correspondent, BBC News
23 February 2017
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The asylum seekers, known as Ajith (left) and Supun, have been moved to a "safe" location
Sri Lankan asylum seekers living in Hong Kong fear they are being illegally pursued by police after sheltering the US whistleblower Edward Snowden in the city.
Criminal investigators from Sri Lanka are believed to have visited Hong Kong looking for them, their lawyer said.
The Sri Lankan police have denied the allegations.
Law enforcement authorities from mainland China or other countries have no jurisdiction in Hong Kong.
The lawyer representing the men, Robert Tibbo, said that at least two officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Sri Lanka police visited Hong Kong in December looking for them.
"We have become aware of Sri Lankan police taking active steps to locate my clients," he said, adding: "They identified themselves to members of the Sri Lankan community in Hong Kong. They carried photographs and files."
Sri Lankan police spokesman Priyantha Jayakodi said the allegation was "a complete lie".
"We have not done any investigation in Hong Kong or any other country on any refugee case," he told BBC Sinhala.
However Mr Tibbo said the evidence came from Sri Lankans living in Hong Kong who were approached on the street in late December by people who carried official identification.
His clients fed and housed Mr Snowden for two weeks in June 2013 when he fled the US after leaking thousands of documents belonging to the US National Security Agency (NSA).
The former IT contractor subsequently left Hong Kong for Moscow.
The names of the asylum seekers, Kellapatha Supun Thilina and Debagma Kankanalamage Ajith Pushpa Kumara, were revealed last year by Mr Tibbo, ahead of the September premiere of the film Snowden by the director Oliver Stone.
He said that it would have been difficult to keep their identities secret after the film’s release.
Mr Tibbo believes the Sri Lankan government began investigating the asylum seekers shortly afterwards.
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ajith, 45, Supun, 32, his partner Nadeeka, 32, and Filipino refugee Vanessa Rodel, 40, in Hong Kong
The lawyer says Sri Lankan officials may have noted the disappearances of the Causeway Bay booksellers and the Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua - who some fear may have been forcibly taken from Hong Kong to mainland China.
"With the Hong Kong government not holding Beijing accountable, and the lack of transparency, this amounts to an invitation to other governments in the world," Mr Tibbo said.
"That their security forces, their police officers are welcome to come into Hong Kong and investigate and do similar things," he added.
Two local lawmakers, Charles Mok and James To, have called for an investigation.
"I am very concerned about this case," said Mr To, a member of the pro-democracy Democratic Party.
"Nobody can come and enforce the law in Hong Kong except Hong Kong officials. Nobody can come in breach of Hong Kong law."
The asylum seekers have since moved to "safer" locations and have notified Hong Kong’s immigration department.
They also plan to file a police report.
Mr Thilina, who arrived in Hong Kong in 2005, said he was frightened by the news.
"I am nervous and scared. I don’t have a normal life now," he said.
His compatriot, Mr Kumara, an army deserter who served as an informal bodyguard to Mr Snowden in 2013, was also worried for his safety.
They are concerned about the prospect of being removed from Hong Kong and forcibly returned to Sri Lanka, where they say they could face violence and torture.
Mr Tibbo represents both men, along with Mr Snowden and Vanessa Rodel, an asylum seeker from the Philippines who also gave refuge to the US whistleblower in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong currently has about 10,000 asylum seekers, mainly from countries in South Asia and Africa.