Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden told a Chinese newspaper he trusted the legal system in Hong Kong to guarantee him a fair trial against criminal charges.
“People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions,” Snowden told the South China Morning Post in an interview published Wednesday. “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”
Snowden has been in hiding in Hong Kong since May 20, 2013 but was reported on Monday as missing from the hotel in which he was staying. He spoke to the Post from an undisclosed location, saying he had no reason to doubt Hong Kong’s legal system.
“I have had many opportunities to flee Hong Kong,” he said to the newspaper. “But I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
The 29-year-old former Hawaii resident provided the British newspaper the Guardian with details on the NSA’s practice of gathering Internet and phone usage data on American citizens. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Saturday that the agency had filed a crimes report against Snowden.
But even though Snowden said he trusts the local justice system, Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, told the newspaper that view “no longer matches the reality” of Hong Kong policies. Other local activists are reportedly planning a demonstration in support of Snowden on Saturday.
While Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S., the Chinese government might intervene in any proceedings brought against Snowden.
“Hong Kong remains a hub of the global media, not least because of its proximity to the economic boom in southern China and the ease of access to many other Asian cities,” Law told the Post. “The publicity could complicate efforts by the United States to charge Snowden and have him deported.”
In a separate article posted on Wednesday, Snowden sidestepped the growing debate about how he will be remembered after his revelations.
“I’m neither traitor nor hero,” he said to the Post. “I’m an American.”
Update, 3 p.m. EST: In a separate interview published on Thursday local time, Snowden told the Post that the NSA’s surveillance also included hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Snowden said to the newspaper he was sharing that information in an effort to highlight what he called “the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries. Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.”