Allowing Edward Snowden, the whistleblower on US phone and Internet surveillance programs, to leave Hong Kong and board a plane to Moscow came down to, among other reasons, the tech specialist's middle name.
Hong Kong's secretary of justice explained on June 25, 2013 that officials permitted Snowden to fly out of the city two days earlier because the US failed to respond to their questions in time regarding their case against him as well as address Snowden's allegations that the US hacked Hong Kong.
Among the five reasons listed is that the papers provided by the US Department of Justice did not specify the “J” in Edward J. Snowden, whether it stands for “James” or “Joseph”.
While the US is “deeply disappointed” by Hong Kong's decision to let Snowden leave “despite a legally valid US request to arrest Snowden for purposes of his extradition”, Rimsky Yuen, the head of the Hong Kong's Justice Department, insisted that Snowden left the city lawfully. Yuen further explained that Hong Kong's Department of Justice had written to the US Department of Justice on June 20 and 21 seeking clarification of certain legal and evidential matters, including Snowden's full name and passport number, details of the charges, and what evidence would be relied on for prosecution.
In the press conference [zh], Yuen told reporters that his department had requested that the US Department of Justice clarify which criminal categories in the extradition agreement the charges that Snowden faces fall under, in particular regarding the charges of “unauthorized disclosure of military information” and “unauthorized disclosure of intelligence”.
Secondly, Hong Kong also demanded US authorities to provide some basic evidence for obtaining the provisional arrest warrant against Snowden.
Thirdly, the papers provided by the US Department of Justice did not include Snowden's passport number and did not specify the “J” in Edward J. Snowden. According to diplomatic documents provided by the US, “J” stands for “James,” but according to information that Hong Kong's Immigration Department has, it was an “Edward Joseph Snowden” crossing the border.
Hong Kong had also requested that the US clarify allegations made by Snowden that the US National Security Agency hacked Hong Kong's computer network as the information would be crucial to determine if the prosecution of Snowden is political in nature. The city's extradition agreement with the US does not cover political offenses.
I tweeted Yuen's explanation last night on Twitter, and many were happy with Hong Kong's tactic:
@richard_lopes: Love that. The US government sloppiness is becoming a trademark :-).
@vruz: If you think about it, that ambiguity is serious. You really don't want to catch the wrong person.
@AndreaPira: Like a Simpson episod[e] about the J in Homer J Simpson
@Hill_AK: It's a magical, mystical, rule of law. It only works when you say the special words!
@ShubhajitRoy: Kickass excuse :-)
@JimMoore1963: Ha! Failed due to arrogant hegemonic assumption that how they do things is how the rest of world does it.
@cuneytgurcan: come on! J stands for Justice there, who does not know that?
On Reddit, user LegalAction quoted Winston Churchill to comment on the city's decision:
“Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”