Former U.S. government security contractor Edward Snowden has hit out at the Hong Kong government for denying refugee status to a group of families who sheltered him while he was on the run in the city in 2013.
Snowden, currently in Russia, initially fled to Hong Kong, where he revealed details of top secret U.S. mass internet surveillance programs he said were unconstitutional.
At one point in his stay, the whistleblower hid in the homes of a number of refugees: a Sri Lankan family, a Sri Lankan man, and a Filipino mother with a daughter, to avoid arrest and extradition to the United States on spying charges.
The refugees were all informed by Hong Kong officials on Monday that their asylum bids had failed because there were "no substantial grounds to believe" their claims that they would face danger in their home countries if repatriated.
One of the lawyers for the families, Robert Tiboo, Told RFA on Friday that the connection with Snowden was the only thing the families had in common, and that their asylum applications had all been turned down simultaneously.
"We are talking about three families with very different backgrounds, who didn't arrive [in Hong Kong] at the same time, and yet their applications are suddenly all turned down at the same time," Tiboo said.
"It's very clear that the Hong Kong immigration department is unhappy about their harboring of Snowden, because they have questioned them about the circumstances since," he said.
"They could be detained at any time if repatriated."
Marc-Andre Sequin, another lawyer for the families, said the families are now applying to Canada for asylum in a last-ditch effort to stave off deportation.
"I hope that the Canadian government will consider the motivation of the Hong Kong government in refusing their asylum applications," Sequin said.
"[I hope they will] speed up the application process and allow them to receive protection as refugees," he said.
Snowden, a former Hawaii-based contractor who worked on National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs, hit out at the move in a video statement in support of the refugees.
"These are good people who were driven from their homes by torture, rape, abuse, blackmail and war," Snowden said. "This is documented. These aren't allegations; these are facts."
"What they are facing is a transparent injustice from the very people who they asked to protect them," he said, suggesting that the decision was linked to the families' role in his subsequent departure from the city.
"Someone in the Hong Kong government has decided they want to make these families disappear immediately," Snowden said.
"If the minister of security in Hong Kong, Lai Tung-kwok, allows it to happen, it should be seen as the defining moment of his career," he said.
"Maybe he'll show us that he's the kind of man that we need in government, and work to get these families immediately resettled and protected, whether in Hong Kong, Canada, or somewhere else."
Snowden has been charged with theft of federal government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges falling under the U.S. Espionage Act.
Lawyer and Legislative Council member Albert Ho said after Snowden flew to Moscow from Hong Kong that the ruling Chinese Communist Party may have had a hand behind the scenes in facilitating his departure, which angered U.S. officials seeking his arrest.
Reported by Goh Fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.