Saturday, June 15, 2013

Demonstrators March for Snowden in Hong Kong

June 15, 2013

Demonstrators March for Snowden in Hong Kong


HONG KONG — Chanting slogans like “Shame, U.S. government,” demonstrators marched from a downtown park to the nearby United States consulate to urge that Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, not be surrendered to American law enforcement and be allowed to remain in Hong Kong.

Tom Grundy, a British expatriate who was one of the event’s organizers, called for the Chinese government in Beijing and the United States government to refrain from putting any pressure on Hong Kong regarding whether Mr. Snowden can stay here. “We want an independent judiciary to decide on the case,” he said.

A British colony until its return to China in 1997, Hong Kong retains the rule of law and a court system widely respected for its independence. Some activists, however, have criticized recent court appointees as having more pro-Beijing personal connections than previous appointees.

In his first comment on Mr. Snowden’s case, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, indicated on Saturday that Hong Kong would follow its established procedures if it is asked to surrender Mr. Snowden to the United States. He also indicated that the Hong Kong government would look into Mr. Snowden’s disclosure that the National Security Agency might have gained covert access to the main hub of Internet servers here, located at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“When the relevant mechanism is activated, the Hong Kong S.A.R. Government will handle the case of Mr Snowden in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong,” Mr. Leung said in a statement, using the acronym for Hong Kong’s status as a special administrative region of China. “Meanwhile, the government will follow up on any incidents related to the privacy or other rights of the institutions or people in Hong Kong being violated.”

Though small — organizers put the gathering at 900 but police said it was more like 300 — the demonstration underlined the complex political maneuvering unleashed by Mr. Snowden’s arrival. He has disclosed classified documents about the United States government’s monitoring of the Internet in the United States and in mainland China and Hong Kong.

Saturday’s march had been organized by more than two dozen groups advocating free speech, democracy and personal liberties on the Internet. Many of the groups, including the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, have long been outspoken critics of Beijing for restricting individual liberties.

“He should be given the right to stay in Hong Kong,” Albert Ho, a former chairman of the Democratic Party, said in a speech at the start of the rally. “We must not let anybody intervene — we must be able to show that Hong Kong will not give in to pressure from other governments.”

In the last two days, state media in mainland China have embraced Mr. Snowden as well for providing confirmation and technical details to The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, of how the United States monitors Internet traffic in mainland China and Hong Kong.

The official China Daily newspaper usually ignores pro-democracy politicians and activists in Hong Kong or even derides them. But the lead story on its front page on Saturday described calls by democracy advocates in the legislature that Mr. Snowden not be sent back to the United States, and discussed the planned demonstration on Saturday afternoon as well.

Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party, said that the Chinese government engages in far more extensive monitoring of phone calls and Internet activity in Hong Kong than the United States government. And unlike the United States, the Chinese government has been willing to leak personal details of people’s lives to the local media to punish them for not toeing the line politically, he said.

Many democracy activists have criticized the Chinese government’s extensive surveillance programs, and in turn have been accused of disloyalty to Beijing for bringing up the subject. So confirmation of American monitoring has given Hong Kong activists a chance to show that they criticize anyone who engages in any form of surveillance, said Mr. Lee, who did not attend the rally and spoke in a telephone interview.

“Some of those marching outside the consulate may be doing it so as not to be accused of being inconsistent,” he said.

China Daily gave the most prominent position on its opinion page on Saturday to excerpts from a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong asserting that Mr. Snowden’s disclosures had damaged the standing of democracy advocates and their admiration for the United States. “The latest leaks have put the local rights politicians in a rather awkward position by exposing their idol’s true character,” the column said.

Mr. Snowden has attracted some committed supporters here. Dozens of protesters held banners in light rain before the event began, and more arrived as the rain began to stop.

“Snowden is being persecuted by a huge institution,” the United States government, said Marcus Ho, a retiree who said that he seldom went to rallies. “We must do something to help.”

The consulate issued a safety warning earlier this week to Americans to stay away from the consulate during the march, which proved peaceful. American consulates and embassies around the world, including the one here, routinely issue such alerts before local demonstrations even when the gatherings are not directly related to American policy.

Calvin Yang contributed reporting.

© 2012 The New York Times Company

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