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Hong Kong Snowden refugees sought by Sri Lanka agents

HONG KONG: Sri Lankan refugee Ajith Puspa, left, 45, and Filipino refugee Vanessa Rodel, right, 40, look on as their lawyer Robert Tibbo, center, speaks at a press conference at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, yesterday.-AFP

HONG KONG: Sri Lankan refugees who sheltered fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong have been targeted by agents from their home country, a lawyer and legislators said yesterday. The story of how impoverished refugees helped the former National Security Agency contractor, who initiated one of the largest data leaks in US history, evades authorities in 2013 only emerged in September, propelling them into the media spotlight. Snowden’s former hosts Supun Thilina Kellapatha and ex-soldier Ajith Pushpakumara from Sri Lanka told reporters Thursday they were “scared and nervous” about the agents’ activities in Hong Kong.

“I don’t feel stable… I don’t have a normal life now,” said Supun, a target of politically motivated violence according to his protection claim. Accompanying the asylum seekers, their lawyer Robert Tibbo and pro-democracy lawmakers James To and Charles Mok believe Sri Lankan agents have targeted the pair. In an incident which tipped Tibbo off, another asylum seeker from Sri Lanka was allegedly approached by two agents identifying themselves as officers from Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which has previously been accused of kidnapping and torture.

The agents, who were carrying files containing information and photographs about Snowden’s temporary hosts, asked for specific details about them, Tibbo said. The asylum seekers’ families in Sri Lanka were also harassed and threatened by police, military and government officials about their exact whereabouts and telephone numbers, with “clear intentions to locate” them, said Tibbo. “There’s actually a treaty between the Hong Kong government and the Sri Lankan government for extradition… All they would have to do is make the formal request to the government, and they’ve never done that,” Tibbo said.

Years in limbo
“It’s quite clear that the Sri Lankan government has an interest in our clients’ relationship with Snowden.” But Sri Lankan authorities have denied this claim. “The police have no interest in the two individuals or their families,” a senior police source told AFP in Colombo. “The Sri Lankan police does not have the time or the resources to send people to Hong Kong as alleged.” Tibbo said they notified the city’s immigration department and would soon report it to the police. Neither immediately responded to AFP’s request for comment.

Lawmakers To and Mok also said they would urge the Hong Kong government and the police to offer protection to the asylum seekers and ensure their safety. The city’s 11,000 marginalized refugees spend years in limbo, hoping the government will support their asylum claims. But with less than one percent of cases successfully substantiated by city authorities, most refugees live in fear of deportation. The Sri Lankan families want to go to Canada, which has a track record of taking in refugees. “I think the world owes them quite a heavy debt for (their help to) advance the cause of people who are concerned about surveillance and privacy violations by governments,” Charles Mok said.–AFP

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