HONG KONG — A senior pro-Beijing lawmaker said Monday that U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is believed to be holed up in Hong Kong after leaking details of a massive secret Internet surveillance program, should leave the city.
Regina Ip, formerly the city's top official overseeing security, told reporters the city's administration was "obliged to comply with the terms of agreements" with the U.S. government, which included the extradition of fugitives.
"It's actually in his best interest to leave Hong Kong," she said, adding that she did not know whether the government had yet received an extradition request. "I doubt it will happen so quickly."
Snowden, whose exact location is unknown, revealed that he was in the southern Chinese city in an interview with the Guardian newspaper released on Sunday, noting his choice of Hong Kong was due to its "strong tradition of free speech."
The United States and Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty in 1996, a year before the city was handed over from British to Chinese control, under which both parties agreed to hand over fugitive offenders.
But any U.S. attempt to repatriate Snowden will be a complicated process, with Beijing able to veto extraditions which involve the "defense, foreign affairs, or essential public interest or policy" of China.
Both the U.S. Consulate and Hong Kong government declined comment on the case.
In his interview, Snowden, a 29-year-old government contractor who has been working at the National Security Agency (NSA) for the past four years, described the consulate as a "CIA station just up the road."
Snowden also expressed an interest in seeking asylum in Iceland, saying it was a country that stood up for Internet freedoms.
But the Icelandic consulate in Hong Kong said it had "no comment" on the case and refused to say whether he had been in touch.
Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory with its own political and legal system that guarantees civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and association.
But China handles foreign relations and defense.
"To extradite someone will probably require a lot of process in Hong Kong," Law Yuk-kai, director of the city's Human Rights Monitor watchdog group, told AFP. "Anybody here in Hong Kong should be protected under international standards. We hope anybody here will be dealt with fairly and their rights are respected."
Snowden told the Guardian he had gone public because he could not "allow the US government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."
"My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them," he said.
Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA, worked for the NSA as an employee of various outside contractors, including Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton.