As I explained earlier today, NSA whistle-blower/leaker/source Edward Snowden’s decision to flee for Hong Kong doesn’t look like the wisest decision given the former British colony’s existing extradition treaty with the United States. But the GlobalPost’s Benjamin Carlson explains one detail that everyone seems to be overlooking: A potential bureaucratic loophole that could buy Snowden some much-needed time while he figures out where he’ll go next.
Simon Young, director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, told GlobalPost that a decision delivered by Hong Kong’s High Court in March of this year required the government to create a new procedure for reviewing asylum applications.
Until the government does this, he said, asylum seekers are allowed to stay in Hong Kong indefinitely. “We’re still waiting to hear from government how they are going to implement this decision,” said Young. “Until that’s the case, you can’t return anyone until the law’s in place.”
In other words, should Snowden apply for asylum, then even if the US made a valid extradition request and Hong Kong was willing to comply he could not be deported until the government figured out a new way to review asylum cases — a potentially lengthy process.
Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch says that any Snowden extradition must be “a long way off” because of this gap in the law. “If it comes to the point where the US does issue a warrant on Snowden, and then passes it over to the Hong Kong authorities, and he decides to fight it, at this point it would be a court case,” he told GlobalPost. “And it can be a long court case, going up to the court of final appeals.”
It’s unclear if Snowden and his allies planned to exploit this loophole all along, although it would certainly provide the missing rationale for why he chose to head to Hong Kong in the first place, and why he felt comfortable enough to out himself and his (rough) location over the weekend. Regardless, it’s unlikely that he’ll be resting easy any time soon.