Protesters rally in Hong Kong to support Snowden

Hundreds of protesters staged a rally in rain-hit Hong Kong Saturday to urge the city's government not to extradite former spy Edward Snowden, and slam the United States for its surveillance programmes. Snowden, 29, has gone to ground in the city after blowing the lid on the US's vast electronic surveillance operation and has vowed to fight any extradition request. The city's first major demonstration on the issue saw protesters, including pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and a large number of expatriates march to the US consulate holding banners and shouting "Defend Free Speech", "Protect Snowden", "No Extradition" and "Respect Hong Kong Law". Many blew their whistles loudly and wore masks with Snowden's face on it. "Today we all blow the whistle," shouted Tom Grundy, a British blogger and activist who lives in Hong Kong. One protester held a sign of US President Barack Obama's famous 'Hope' poster, edited to show the leader as a spy wearing large headphones. Another sign read: "Betray Snowden, Betray freedom". The US has launched a criminal investigation after Snowden, a former CIA technical assistant, leaked details of Washington's secret Internet and telephone surveillance programmes. The protesters, made up of 27 civil society organisations, handed a letter over to the US consulate addressed to Consul General Steve Young, which said: "For many years, the US State Department has publicly supported the cause of Internet freedom and criticised other governments for conducting cyber attacks, surveillance and censorship. "We now understand, through recent revelations, that the US government has been operating their own blanket surveillance systems and allegedly conducting cyber warfare against Hong Kong. "This is a violation of Human Rights of people of Hong Kong and around the world." Snowden told the South China Morning Post newspaper earlier this week that there have been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, targeting powerful "network backbones" that can yield access to hundreds of thousands of individual computers. There were hundreds of targets in mainland China and Hong Kong, Snowden was quoted as saying. Hong Kong has a long-standing extradition treaty with the US, but Beijing has the potential to veto any ruling. "We are going to see a lot of political juggling between two of the biggest powers in the world in order to possibly extradite Mr. Snowden," lawmaker and Hong Kong entrepreneur Charles Mok told protesters. "Who is losing? You and I, all the Internet users in the world. Why? Because we in Hong Kong know the best, we live outside of the Great Firewall of China," Mok said. And the rally comes amid increasing concern in the city over perceived mainland interference. Rally spokeswoman Oiwan Lam told AFP: "Snowden is now in Hong Kong and falls under our jurisdiction and we have to defend the fact that the city's courts are in the position to deal with the situation." Maverick Hong Kong lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung meanwhile called US President Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping "twin brothers" when it comes to Internet spying. "The most important thing is in defending Mr Snowden. If he can be extradited and be punished, who will be the second whistleblower?" he told protesters. "There are a lot of Mr. Snowdens all over the world. It's like an execution if they grab Mr. Snowden and extradite him," Leung told AFP. "They will condemn him to hell in a small cell for tens of years," he said. Following the rally, the city's chief executive Leung Chun-ying said in a statement: "The Hong Kong...government will handle the case of Mr. Snowden in accordance with the laws and established procedures. "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," the statement added. So far the United States has not filed a formal extradition request to Hong Kong, a former British colony that retained its separate legal system when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing ultimately retains control over defence and foreign affairs but it and Hong Kong's governments have yet to make any comment about Snowden's case. Protesters march beside the US consulate in support of former US spy Edward Snowden in Hong Kong on June 15, 2013. Hundreds of protesters staged a rally in rain-hit Hong Kong Saturday to urge the city's government not to extradite former spy Edward Snowden, and slam the United States for its surveillance programmes. Umbrellas with slogans are lined up before a protest march to the US consulate in Hong Kong in support of Edward Snowden on June 15, 2013. Hundreds of protesters staged a rally in rain-hit Hong Kong Saturday to urge the city's government not to extradite former spy Edward Snowden, and slam the United States for its surveillance programmes. A woman holds a placard during a protest march in support of Edward Snowden in Hong Kong on June 15, 2013. Hundreds of protesters staged a rally in rain-hit Hong Kong Saturday to urge the city's government not to extradite former spy Edward Snowden, and slam the United States for its surveillance programmes. Protesters hold placards as they march to in support of Edward Snowden in Hong Kong on June 15, 2013. Hundreds of protesters staged a rally in rain-hit Hong Kong Saturday to urge the city's government not to extradite former spy Edward Snowden, and slam the United States for its surveillance programmes.

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