“Beyond Hong Kong: Edward Snowden’s best options for asylum”

Edward Snowden
“Edward Snowden explained that he had chosen Hong Kong because it ‘has a strong tradition of free speech’. Photograph: The Guardian/AFP/Getty Images”

The Guardian on June 10, 2013 released the following:

“Choice of Hong Kong as refuge is admired, but speculation remains that he could seek sanctuary in Iceland

[BY] Owen Bowcott and Alexandra Topping

Edward Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong as a refuge from US retribution has been admired by some international lawyers – but it has not quelled speculation that he may seek asylum in another state thereafter, and activists in Iceland are making preparations should the whistleblower try to head there.

Hong Kong is a separate jurisdiction from China and has an extradition treaty with the United States, but the agreement has exceptions – including for crimes deemed to be political. In his video interview with the Guardian, Snowden, 29, an IT contractor, explained that he had chosen the semi-autonomous territory because “Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech”.

Under Hong Kong’s Fugitives Offenders Ordinance, however, China can issue an “instruction” to the city’s leader to take or not take action on extraditions where the interests of China “in matters of defence or foreign affairs would be significantly affected”.

One US lawyer, Douglas McNabb, a Houston-based extradition expert, said it would not be difficult for the United States to provide justification for any request. “This guy came out and said: ‘I did it,'” he commented. “[Snowden’s] best defence would probably be that this is a political case instead of a criminal one.”

Other states being mentioned where Snowden might seek sanctuary have included Ecuador, whose embassy in London is currently home to the fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Venezuela and Iceland – where WikiLeaks has received support.

Iceland’s ministry of the interior – which would have the final say on whether Snowden received asylum – denied that it had received any application from the whistleblower.

“We have heard about this, but we cannot speculate,” said Johannes Tomasson, spokesman for the ministry. “At the moment we have received no inquiry or application from Mr Snowden, and we cannot therefore speculate on whether any such application would be granted.”

But there was a groundswell of support for Snowden, according to information activist Smári McCarthy, executive director of the International Modern Media Institute in Iceland (IMMI), which has started making inquiries about how Snowden might be given refuge.

“Of course we have been following the story with morbid fascination and as soon as [he] mentioned Iceland, that was our cue to take action,” said McCarthy. “We are working on the basis that if he were to arrive in Iceland we would have a plan in place and ready to go.”

McCarthy’s organisation has requested a meeting with the minister of the interior and is in discussions with lawyers about the possibility of Snowden gaining protection in Iceland. One concern for campaigners is that Iceland has an extradition treaty with the US and that it could be diplomatically difficult for the small nation to grant asylum.

“It is not sure whether Iceland would be up for the fight as the US is a major trading partner,” he said. “However, it would be rather embarrassing for the States if it cut ties with this small nation because it had complied with its human rights duties.”

Snowden would have to arrive on Icelandic soil or at one of its embassies in order to claim asylum, but would have popular support in Iceland, said McCarthy. “Everywhere in the Icelandic media today we are seeing that support, with people thinking that Snowden is deserving of Iceland’s protection.”

Iceland has a history of providing asylum, famously giving former world chess champion Bobby Fischer Icelandic citizenship after a vote in the country’s parliament and is considered a world leader in human rights. The US government is unlikely to deprive Snowden of his nationality as a punishment since that could undermine any attempt to extradite him back to the United States to face charges.

Rendering anyone stateless against their will is formally forbidden by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, which declares under article 15 that: “(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality; (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”

Individuals, however, can voluntarily renounce their US citizenship. In order to do so they must, according to the US state department, “appear in person before a US consular or diplomatic officer, in a foreign country (normally at a US embassy or consulate); and sign an oath of renunciation.”

The regulations add: “Persons intending to renounce US citizenship should be aware that, unless they already possess a foreign nationality, they may be rendered stateless and, thus, lack the protection of any government. They may also have difficulty travelling as they may not be entitled to a passport from any country.””


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
International Extradition Lawyers Videos:

International Extradition – When the FBI Seeks Extradition

International Extradition – Wire Transfer – Email – Telephone Call


We previously discussed the extradition treaty between the United States and Hong Kong here.


To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


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