- June 26, 2013, 1:33 PM HKT
- AFP/Getty Images
- Two cars of the Ecuadorian embassy are parked at Moscow Sheremetevo airport, where Mr. Snowden arrived earlier this week.
The U.S. Justice Department needs to pay more attention to names and numbers when requesting other governments to detain its citizens, Hong Kong officials say.
By now, the world is very familiar with the name Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor who says he has leaked classified information about the U.S. National Security Agency’s data-collection methods. But at least when it comes to U.S. and Hong Kong authorities, his middle name is a matter of some dispute.
Hong Kong’s justice secretary, Rimsky Yuen, says that according to Hong Kong immigration records, Joseph is the middle name in Mr. Snowden’s passport. Yet when the U.S. government submitted documents as part of a request to their Hong Kong counterparts to issue a provisional arrest warrant for the former security contractor, they specified one Edward James Snowden. In another, they simply referred to him as Edward J. Snowden, according to Mr. Yuen.
That, among other factors, helped contribute to the processing of the U.S.’s request. What’s more, Mr. Yuen added, attempts to process the U.S. request were further complicated by the fact that the U.S. didn’t specify any passport number for Mr. Snowden in its documents.
Mr. Yuen’s comments come after the U.S. blasted Hong Kong and Chinese authorities for allowing Mr. Snowden to leave the Chinese territory aboard a flight to seek political refuge overseas. Mr. Snowden’s location is currently unknown. Reports have said he is headed for Ecuador.
Mr. Yuen said that Hong Kong authorities had asked for clarification on Friday, June 21, but had yet to get any reply by the time Mr. Snowden chose to leave the city on an international flight on Sunday morning.
“Until the minute of Snowden’s departure, the U.S. government hadn’t yet replied to our requests for clarification,” he said. “Hong Kong’s government had no legal basis to block his departure,” Mr. Yuen said. “Any suggestion that we have been deliberately letting Mr. Snowden go away or to do any other things to obstruct the normal operation is totally untrue.”
U.S. officials have implied that Beijing was behind the decision to let Mr. Snowden leave the country. That it was left out of the loop is high unlikely, as Hong Kong is obligated to notify central authorities of any surrender proceedings.
But at the same time, Hong Kong has its own bureaucracy. Some local lawyers and legislators have noted that surrender requests typically require some amount of back-and-forth and vetting before authorities are able to proceed under Hong Kong law.
On Monday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying cited the rule of law in his defense of the decision to let Mr. Snowden leave. “The people of Hong Kong and our friends in the international community expect us to follow the laws,” he said. “Equally importantly, they expect us to follow procedural fairness and procedural justice.”
Giles Surman, a lawyer who is experienced in working in extradition cases in Hong Kong, noted that Hong Kong takes the defense of local freedoms seriously, including the freedom to travel. “If you want to restrict someone’s freedom to travel you need to get the paperwork,” he said.
– Chester Yung and Te-Ping Chen