Why Does Snowden Remain Free?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 22 2013 1:50 PM

Hong Kong Remains Silent on U.S. Extradition Request for Edward Snowden

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A woman walks past a banner displayed in support of Edward Snowden in Hong Kong

Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

It has been more than a week since the United States asked Hong Kong to arrest Edward Snowden, but the former National Security Agency contractor remains free. Why? No one really knows. Snowden has not been detained, is not under police protection but is in a “safe place” in Hong Kong, reports the South China Morning Post. The U.S. government asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden on June 14, the same day it filed criminal charges against the former contractor for theft of government property and espionage.

The United States and Hong Kong have an extradition treaty that has been in place since 1998 but so far there’s been no word on whether the local government intends to arrest Snowden. One former high-ranking Hong Kong official tells the New York Times it seems certain that local authorities have identified Snowden’s location, but points out Washington may have been too slow to disclose charges. The delay may have given supporters time to get ready for a potential defense, and now “plans to protect Snowden appear to be unfolding,” reports the Washington Post. Many in Hong Kong believe Snowden should not be extradited and there are several ways in which the former contractor could avoid that fate, including requesting political asylum, points out the Los Angeles Times.

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In order to extradite Snowden, Hong Kong authorities would have to charge him with an equivalent crime. Even if they do that though, the spying charges would almost certainly lead to court fights. One lawyer said the whole extradition proceeding could take anywhere from three to five years, reports Reuters. And even if a court approves Snowden’s extradition, Hong Kong’s leader or even China, could nix the move on national security claims.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.