Three Sri Lankan families who harboured US whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 say that the Sri Lankan authorities have entered the city to seek them out.

Their lawyer Robert Tibbo said that at least two Sri Lankan police officers from the Criminal Investigation Division visited Sri Lankan groups in Hong Kong to enquire as to their whereabouts. He said the officers confirmed their identities, and brought documents and photos of the three families during their last visit, according to a report from Ming Pao.

After Snowden gave a media interview at a Tsim Sha Tsui hotel exposing the extent of surveillance by the US National Security Agency in 2013, he was brought to the home of Sri Lankan refugees Supun and Nadeeka by Tibbo. He also stayed with Sri Lankan refugee Ajith and Filipino refugee Vanessa. For two weeks, the families sheltered him in their respective flats until he flew to Moscow, where he remains.

Photo: James To.

At a press conference on Thursday afternoon at the Legislative Council building, the families involved expressed fear and anxiety, and said that they felt helpless, according to Apple Daily.

“We have multiple sources confirming yes, they were on the ground here,” Tibbo said. “Here, they were asking if they knew these people – they wanted to know where they lived, they wanted to meet them.”

According to one of the families, their immediate family members in Sri Lanka were also questioned, harassed and threatened by the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Division and government officials. They demanded the addresses and telephone numbers of certain people who sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong, a press release from Tibbo’s office said.

The families have moved out of their homes, and will contact the Hong Kong police to seek protection, the lawyer said.

He said that he hoped the world would pay attention to the matter, so as to exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government, adding that he has contacted Snowden, and he is also concerned about the matter.

Photo: James To.

The families are making arrangements to permanently relocate to Canada, Tibbo said.

Lawmaker Charles Mok said that law enforcement personnel in other countries must contact relevant individuals through the Hong Kong police if they want to conduct investigations in the city, according to Apple Daily. If the government ignored the claims of illegal cross-border law enforcement, he said, “Hong Kong would become an uncovered chicken cage.”

Snowden stayed in Tai Kok Tsui, Kennedy Town and Sham Shui Po. Photo: Wikicommons.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To said in a press release that Hong Kong has always stood fast by One Country, Two Systems, and is committed to protecting its status as a safe city. Aside from Hong Kong’s own law enforcement agencies, no one can enforce the law in Hong Kong. He added that he will reflect the seriousness of the matter to senior government officials, and ask authorities to protect the families.

In response to the claims, the police said that all law enforcement agencies from outside Hong Kong’s borders operating in the city are contravening Hong Kong law, and if residents feel that their personal safety is under threat, they should call the police for help, according to RTHK.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture found during a visit last year that a “culture of torture” persists among Sri Lankan security forces, who use torture and other ill-treatment against prisoners.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.