Sri Lankan refugees sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong
Ajith, Vanessa, Nadeeka and Supun who sheltered NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 in Hong Kong, before he fled to Moscow. Photo: Handelsblatt

Sri Lankan refugees sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong

September 8, 2016   04:29 pm

Sri Lankan and Filipino refugees sheltered NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden from the time he left a hotel in Hong Kong until he was able to leave the territory, according to a German newspaper.

Snowden was taken to the refugees’ dwelling in Hong Kong slums by a human rights lawyer, according to Handelsblatt. He stayed with one Sri Lankan family in their small flat before moving to stay with a Filipino and then another Sri Lankan.

The NSA contractor had met journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras at the Hotel Mira in Hong Kong where he was staying. There the three, along with Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill, prepared stories using the documents which Snowden had with him. The first story was published on 13 June 2013.

After that, once Snowden’s identity became known and he began to fear retaliation by the US authorities, the human rights lawyer Robert Tibbo came to his aid. Tibbo was helping some of the 12,000 refugees who were living under miserable conditions in Hong Kong.

Greenwald was told of the existence of Tibbo and another human rights lawyer, Jonathan Mann. Both went into action as soon as they were contacted, with Mann contacting the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees to try and seek political protection for Snowden.

Snowden was then billetted with the refugees until he was able to leave Hong Kong. He ended up in Moscow where he is now living.

According to the news report, Snowden spent a night with Ajith Pushpakumara, 44, who said he fled to Hong Kong after being chained to a wall and tortured for deserting the army in his native Sri Lanka.

Pushpakumara said he had listened to online radio broadcasts about Snowden and was surprised to suddenly find him in the dingy apartment that he shared with several men. He realised Snowden was in the same situation he was, hiding in a small room. “I was worried about him,” he said.

Supun Thilina Kellapatha, his wife and their toddler also sheltered Snowden, putting him up for about three days in their 250-square-foot apartment.

Kellapatha, 32, who said he sought protection in Hong Kong after being tortured in Sri Lanka, described their guest as a tired man who was unfailingly polite.

“He said, ‘You are a good man,’” when he arrived at the apartment, Kellapatha recalled. “But I feel he is better than me, because he respected me.”

Kellapatha and his wife, Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis, said they were not worried about hosting Snowden. “I don’t think I take the risk,” he said. “He is the one who take the big risk.”

When Snowden left, he left the couple $200 under a pillow, which they said they used to buy necessities for their daughter. “Sometimes I tell Supun, maybe he forgot us,” Nonis said. “I want to tell him, ‘Edward, how are you? We will never forget you.’”

Disclosure of the fact that Snowden was aided by refugees comes ahead of the release of a film about his saga by well-known American director Oliver Stone in Toronto on Friday.


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