So today, finally, the US has laid formal charges on Edward Snowden and the show has finally hit the road. The Washington Post reports:
Snowden was charged with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” according to the complaint. The last two charges were brought under the 1917 Espionage Act.
[…]The Obama administration has shown a particular propensity to go after leakers and has launched more investigations than any previous administration. This White House is responsible for bringing six of the nine total indictments ever brought under the 1917 Espionage Act. Snowden will be the seventh individual when he is formally indicted.
Chapter 521, Section 14(1) of the Laws of Hong Kong state:
A person who is or has been a public servant or government contractor commits an offence if without lawful authority he makes a damaging disclosure of any information, document or other article relating to security or intelligence that is or has been in his possession by virtue of his position as such but otherwise than as mentioned in section 13(1).
Thus the US government has cleared the first step: proving dual criminality. However, it still needs to convince the local courts that Snowden’s crimes were not political (a tall order in my opinion) and Beijing could always veto any approval for “surrender” (technically, extradition only applies to sovereign states).
Disappointingly, several pan-democratic legislators are actually calling on Beijing to intervene. The Associated Press states:
Outspoken legislator Leung Kwok-hung said Beijing should instruct Hong Kong to protect Snowden from extradition before his case gets dragged through the court system.
[…]Another legislator, Cyd Ho, vice-chairwoman of the pro-democracy Labour Party, said China “should now make its stance clear to the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) government” before the case goes before a court.
Fortunately, another pan-democrat, ex-Legislator Martin Lee, still has his wits about him, calling for Beijing to shut the hell up and wait its turn to use its veto powers:
“Beijing would only intervene according to my understanding at the last stage. If the magistrate said there is enough to extradite, then Mr. Snowden can then appeal,” he said.
Lee said Beijing could then decide at the end of the appeal process if it wanted Snowden extradited or not.
Officially, China has not made any statements on the case; however it has been placing tremendous political pressure on Hong Kong not to extradite Snowden through its state newspaper the Global Times, with an editorial explicitly titled “Extraditing Snowden an unwise decision“. Thus the courts of Hong Kong are in a bind: they can either give in to China’s demands, or get overruled anyway. By coming here, Snowden has killed Hong Kong’s last ounce of judicial independence.
Meanwhile, Snowden is reportedly staying in a safe house provided by the police’s Anti-Terrorism group, which seems like the totally wrong group to handle Snowden’s case. The police have denied this allegation.
There’s also been rumors Wikileaks has been helping Snowden by chartering a flight for him direct to Iceland, but unless he’s already gone he’ll have a hard time leaving the city now.
Finally, the Guardian has released new documents from Snowden detailing the UK’s tapping of optical fibers for spying purposes, much as the US did/does, and Wikileaks’ Assange has recently passed the one-year mark holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.