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Hong Kong rallies in the rain for Edward Snowden

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Several hundred protesters took to Hong Kong's streets Saturday to support Edward Snowden

Snowden has been hiding out in Hong Kong since fleeing the United States

Mass speculation that Hong Kong may not provide safe haven for Snowden

Snowden case has resparked simmering fears of Beijing's interference in Hong Kong's affairs and freedoms

Hong Kong CNN —  

When U.S. citizen Edward Snowden decided to flee to Hong Kong because of its “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,” he may not have anticipated that some in the city would launch a protest backing him.

Several hundred demonstrators took to Hong Kong’s streets in the rain Saturday voicing support for Snowden a week after the 29-year-old computer technician, who is believed to be hiding out somewhere in the city, revealed himself as the source of leaked documents exposing an international surveillance program of internet and telephone communications operated by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

The revelation of his presence – as well as his claims that Hong Kong had been subject to the surveillance – has sparked heated speculation whether Hong Kong, a special administrative region – one that is semi-autonomous – of the People’s Republic of China, would prove to be a safe haven for him. Snowden said his intention was to “ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate.”

“We’re rallying in order not to disappoint him and to ask Hong Kong to protect his well-being, not to extradite him, and to uphold Hong Kong law,” said blogger, activist and protest organizer Tom Grundy.

Amid the blowing of whistles and chants of “Protect Snowden!” and “NSA has no say!” the protest brought together representatives from 27 civil rights, labor rights, and left-wing democratic groups, as well as many ordinary members of the public as well as media. Under the drizzling sky, protesters determined to show their support held laminated placards and umbrellas painted with slogans.

Adi Koul and Jesus Meza, students from the University of Texas at Austin who are studying abroad in Hong Kong, said they found the protest “really refreshing.”

“As Americans, it’s kind of disheartening to know [the surveillance program] is going on behind our backs and we don’t have a say in it,” said Koul. “It’s empowering to see people who aren’t necessarily American fighting for something they feel is a universal human right.”

Ruth Jopling brought her daughters, Amber, aged eight, and three-year-old Jade, along to the protest; the children held cut-out masks on sticks bearing Snowden’s image. “It’s not just about our generation, but the next generation as well,” Jopling said. Amber echoed her mother’s sentiment: “When I grow up, I can tell my children about this.”

Organizers claimed an overall turnout of 900 protesters; police said the demonstration had a peak turnout of 300 – a relatively small showing compared to major protests in Hong Kong, which have attracted hundreds of thousands of people. Grundy said plans for the protest only began on Monday, and that he would be pleased if 1,000 people turned out in the end.

The three-hour protest, which kicked off in a garden in the city’s business district and went on to the U.S. consulate and the Hong Kong government headquarters, failed to gain a strong sense of momentum, hampered in part by the narrow looping route allocated by the city’s authorities. At each rallying point, only a small group was able to gather around to hear the keynote speakers; most protesters were relegated to standing single or double file some distance away. By the time the protest moved outside the government headquarters to deliver an open letter to the city’s leader, Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, the crowd had dropped to about 100 people.

Snowden’s arrival in the city has heightened simmering fears about the ever-encroaching hand of Beijing in the city’s affairs and freedoms.

While Hong Kong has its own de facto constitution, judiciary, and legal system under the “one country two systems” policy, a deep mistrust runs in the city toward the government under Leung, who is widely viewed as being under the thumb of the Chinese central government.

In a televised interview with Bloomberg Wednesday, Leung repeatedly insisted he “does not comment on individual cases,” when asked how Hong Kong would handle Snowden’s case. His stonewalling infuriated many Hong Kongers.