Four years have passed since Edward Snowden orchestrated one of the largest data breaches in recent history, but cases related to the 2013 U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) breach are still developing.
Seven refugees who helped hide Edward Snowden have recently been denied asylum by Hong Kong.
Ajith Pushpakumara, Supun Thilina Kellapatha, Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and a family of four from Sri Lanka had their applications rejected by the government.
Vanessa Mae Rodel from the Philippines also faces deportation alongside the Sri Lankans.
The refugees hid Edward Snowden for two weeks when he fled the U.S. having leaked thousands of documents exposing the NSA’s global surveillance program.
Their Canadian lawyer, Robert Tibbo, told CNN the government’s decision is based on the asylum seekers’ relationship with Edward Snowden.
He claims that the refugees arrived in Hong Kong at different times and submitted their asylum applications separately.
According to him, the cases have little in common if the Edward Snowden relationship is not factored in.
As per the immigration department, there are currently nearly 9,000 cases of asylum seekers awaiting decisions. Unfortunately, Hong Kong has a history of unfavorable decisions against asylum seekers.
However, this has not stopped the refugees’ lawyers from claiming that these asylum seekers are being singled out by the government because of their connection to Edward Snowden.
A Hong Kong government spokesperson denied these allegations.
Tibbo was Edward Snowden’s primary advisor when the whistleblower arrived in Hong Kong back in 2013. He approached the Sri Lankans and enlisted their help in hiding Edward Snowden.
Edward Snowden spent a few days in Ajith’s flat in the western side of the region before moving to Supun and Nadeeka’s cramped flat in a residential area in Kowloon.
He also spent some time in Rodel’s small one-bedroom home located in Sham Shui Po neighborhood.
All the refugees have stated that they consented to help Edward Snowden and were happy with their decisions even though they were justifiably nervous at first.
Their lawyer shared these sentiments and stated that he does not regret that decision. Tibbo referred to the Hong Kong Immigration Department as completely unreasonable.
He cited numerous factual errors and stated that the authorities were attempting to force the refugees out of the city.
He added that the decision to deny them asylum was already made a long time ago.
Authorities began taking a special interest in the group after their involvement with Edward Snowden became known to the public in 2016.
This happened just as Oliver Stone’s film, ‘Snowden,’ premiered in September.
At the time, the refugees’ lawyers hoped that the media attention would help them gain protection and safe haven in the area.
It seems that this was not to be so. Information then surfaced that Sri Lankan criminal investigators had traveled to Hong Kong and were searching for the asylum seekers.
According to Tibbo, police agents showed photos of the refugees to Sri Lankans in Hong Kong with hopes of apprehending them.
Sri Lankan police denied these allegations with the spokesperson, Priyantha Jayakodi, calling the allegations a complete lie.
It is worth noting that authorities from mainland China or any other country do not have any jurisdiction in Hong Kong.
Tibbo claimed the evidence was provided by the Sri Lankans living in the region.
The asylum seekers have 14 days to appeal the immigration department decision before they are deported. The refugees submitted an application to Canada and are represented by Marc-Andre Seguin.
Seguin also reiterated that the refugees were being targeted due to the Edward Snowden factor. He emphasized the possibility that asylum in Canada is their last option.
Human Rights Watch General Counsel, Dinah Pokempner, has stated that Canada can now prevent a terrible outcome by granting asylum to the families.
Edward Snowden himself has also come out in strong support of the refugees who aided him and has called for Canada to make the right decision.