Hong Kong Must Provide
By Yoichi Shimatsu
| HONG KONG - It is ironic that so many
outspoken journalists and democratic individuals who have consistently opposed
China’s authority are now feeling discomfort at the sudden arrival of American
fugitive Edward Snowden. The former NSA intelligence analyst is being met
with hesitant minced words by the normally vociferous media and less than
lukewarm applause from the city elders, certainly not the red carpet treatment
that greets visiting Chinese dissidents. The former employee of influential
Washington lobbyist and contractor Booz Allen comes without funding from
the National Endowment for Democracy (NEH), the Heritage Foundation or Freedom
House, and without their seal of approval. He comes to Hong Kong alone and
Nevertheless, the American fugitive chose well in picking Hong Kong for his exile, since the city remains a gray area between the legal systems of Britain and China, and a halfway house betwixt the philosophies of East and West. Snowden has the options to remain here over the foreseeable future as either an applicant for refugee status on grounds of political persecution in his homeland or simply by setting up a business or seeking employment that qualifies him for a work permit.
A refugee appeal is a possible path, although not a straight highway to sanctuary. Over this interim before the Handover period ends in 2047, Hong Kong operates under its own transitional Basic Law and the status of newcomers is determined by the Immigration Department (ID). The gray area arises in its nebulous policy toward political refugees. Since China and not Hong Kong is a signatory of the 1967 UN Refugee Protocol, the special administrative region (SAR) does not conduct a refugee status determination for the UN high commission, but treats each case on an individual basis.
The legal limbo for an asylum seeker can last decades before ID states its decision, and even longer for an appeal to be heard in the SAR high court by judges who tend toward leniency in such cases. By that time, the war on terror and its extrajudicial espionage against Internet users will probably have been terminated and declared unconsitutional.
The other option that the former contract intelligence agent can pursue is to set up a business inside what the Heritage Foundation calls “the world’s freest economy” or find a job with a local company. Hong Kong is teeming with investment banks, shipping companies, security contractors and tech firms that can gainfully use his experience and computer skills. A complaint filed in a foreign court of law should pose no problem since controversial figures such as Thaksin Shinawatra and Marc Rich have stayed in this city with impunity.
With its balance between legalism and practicality, Hong Kong stubbornly remains a sturdy corner of a Free World that is shrinking under the authoritarianism of Homeland Security and the war on terrorism. That this SAR is the doorstep to the People’s Republic of China, however, is highly disturbing to U.S. intelligence officials.
Their fear, of course, is that their diversionary game of accusing China of cyber-espionage could become completely undone if the Chinese media publicizes the contents of documents in Snowden’s possession. His downloads of files, memos and emails overwhelmingly incriminate US intelligence officials and their corporate lackeys, including Google and Facebook, in snooping on every individual who has ever used a computer for electronic communications.
Stolen in that global spying operation by the National Security Agency, and its Israeli security contractors Verint and Narus, are not just clues about potential terrorist attacks but also the financial records of every registered company, proprietary information, personal banking data, passwords, encryption codes, love letters, IOUs, visits to porn sites, online gambling bets and just about anything else that could incriminate a person in court or be used for character assassination through a sensationalist media.
Espionage against civilians, who under constitutional law are innocent until proven guilty, is excessive, burdensome, unnecessary and diversionary in the silent quest to track down militants and bomb makers, most of them who are anyway in the employ of the CIA or allied agencies.
The actual purpose of the official data theft is political blackmail, particularly of politicians, high bureaucrats, police chiefs, generals and publishers, in short, the people who control our lives. Snowden’s revelations about the Prism eavesdropping project prove that the United States is a mafia state, guiltier by far than all organized crime groups and rogue nations combined.
Thus, Senators and newspaper columnists beholden to the bureaucratic cyber-mafia are accusing Snowden of the ridiculous charge of treasonable honesty, showing only how they have consigned the Constitution to the dumpster. His rebellion is against what the French call the “trahison de clercs”, the treason of the educated class that sells out intellectual integrity for its own ill-gotten perks and political advancement. Ethical corruption, especially when cloaked in national security, is a dagger in the heart of democracy. And to anyone has not yet noticed, American democracy is fatally bleeding.
That leaves the legal and ethical responsibility to Hong Kong, this proud resilient little rock against the typhoons of authoritarianism, to uphold political freedom by providing a public platform and a roof for a dissenter and truth teller like Edward Snowden.
As for Americans at home and abroad, it is important to recognize that Snowden came to his momentous decision, undoubtedly with much trepidation over his own fate, during the Memorial Day weekend. On that second-most important national holiday, I was at a dinner in California, where the hostess gave a prayer of thanks and then told the children present: “For a nation to be free, its people must be brave.”
That pair of words from The Star-Spangled Banner will be heard again soon on the Fourth of July, reminding Americans, along with all those who believe that government exists to protect not the power of authority but the freedoms of the people. Without our willing consent and separation of powers, the state has no right whatsoever. Edward Snowden has shown bravery against unjust authority in Washington so that the rest of us can continue to enjoy our rights worldwide. It is our turn now to protect his freedom.
Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of The Japan Times Weekly, is a freelance writer based in Hong Kong.
Although the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol have been widely ratified by states,many Asian nations have been generally resistant to committing to refugee protection and have been relatively critical of the development of international refugee law. In spite of this,the Asia-Pacific Region is currently home to approximately one-third of the world’s refugee population.
Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997,and was granted a moderate degree of autonomy in all areas except for Foreign Policy and Defense. Under Basic Law,Hong Kong maintains control over its own Immigration controls and thereby has the right to develop its own laws and policies with regards to refugees. The PRC has signed onto the Refugee Convention but the ratification of these treaties has not been extended to Hong Kong,and Hong Kong does not provide legal status or protection to refugees.
As the local Government does not carry out its own Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedures,the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in charge of assessing asylum-claims in Hong Kong and of resettling recognized refugees to third countries.
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