Four asylum seekers who harbored NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as he hid out in Hong Kong in 2013 have had their claims rejected. The group now face deportation, their lawyer said Monday.
The four – three of whom hail from Sri Lanka and one from the Philippines – provided shelter to Snowden during his monthlong stay in the semiautonomous Chinese territory in May 2013. At the time, Snowden was one of the world’s most wanted men, fleeing the U.S. after leaking thousands of classified files that exposed extensive U.S. surveillance.
A Hong Kong government spokesman said there were no substantial grounds for believing that the asylum claimants would be in danger in their home countries, as they have claimed. The four – Vanessa Rodel from the Philippines, former Sri Lankan soldier Ajith Pushpakumara, and Supun Kellapatha and Nadeeka Nonis, a married couple from Sri Lanka – now face possible detention or deportation.
The four have also applied for asylum in Canada for themselves and their children. Rodel has one child born in Hong Kong, while Kellapatha and Nonis have two. CNN reports that Snowden has made a video appeal calling on members of the public to petition Canada’s immigration minister, the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong, or the Hong Kong government to help the families.
The asylum seekers each sheltered Snowden in their tiny Hong Kong apartments after they were introduced to the fugitive by his lawyer Robert Tibbo, who was handling their asylum cases. Fearing that Snowden could face rendition back to the U.S. if he were located, Tibbo placed him in the care of the asylum seekers, reasoning that their apartments were among the last places anyone would look for the data leaker. They did not know Snowden’s backstory until they saw him in media reports.
Their role in hiding Snowden was not known until the release of an Oliver Stone movie last year – “Snowden” – which shed light on his stay in Hong Kong.
Tibbo told the South China Morning Post that the Hong Kong immigration department’s decision was “unreasonable,” and that the group plans to appeal the decision. He told the BBC that he believed the decision to be unfair, and that although the claimants had arrived in Hong Kong at different times and made separate claims, they had been decided on at the same time – something Tibbo suggested was linked to their role in the Snowden case. The Hong Kong government denied this accusation.
After just over a month in Hong Kong, Snowden boarded a flight to Russia, where he has since been granted asylum. He has lived in Moscow with his dog Rick since 2013.