Supporters of whistleblower Edward Snowden are raising funds for the refugees in Hong Kong who helped him evade capture in the two weeks in 2013 that he was America's most wanted man.
One of Snowden's attorneys, Robert Tibbo, revealed in an exclusive interview with Canada's National Post that in the weeks that followed Snowden's leak of classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents, he stayed with Vietnamese, Indonesian, Filipino, African, and Sri Lankan refugee families in poverty-stricken areas of Hong Kong, who said they felt solidarity with him as a displaced person.
The Post spoke with one of the men who helped protect Snowden, who said he vaguely recognized the nervous-looking American skulking around the United Nations building in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon, but couldn't place him. The Post reports:
Summoned by his immigration lawyer in the late evening of June 10, 2013, Ajith (last names of the refugees in this story have been withheld), a former soldier in the Sri Lankan military, was told the unidentified man was "famous" and needed "protection." Little else was revealed except that he would be responsible for covertly moving the American around at a moment's notice.
"I was very happy to help him," Ajith recalled during a recent interview with the National Post in his small windowless room in Kennedy Town, on the western tip of Hong Kong Island. "This famous person was a refugee too, same as me."
Tibbo revealed the information after director Oliver Stone pressed him for information on those missing two weeks while doing research for his biopic of the whistleblower, Snowden.
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He said Snowden gave each of the refugees $1,000 after he "realized he may have unwittingly put them at risk by revealing their role for the Hollywood movie."
"They had a hundred chances to betray me while I was amongst them, and no one could have blamed them, given their precarious situations. But they never did," Snowden said. "If not for their compassion, my story could have ended differently. They taught me no matter who you are, no matter what you have, sometimes a little courage can change the course of history."
Snowden escaped Hong Kong and was eventually granted asylum in Russia, where he remains in exile to this day.
Guardian reporter Ewan MacAskill, who was one of the first to publish the NSA leaks, writes that Snowden's supporters are now raising funds to send to the refugees in case they face reprisal after the film is released.
In a text message to the Post, Snowden expressed his gratitude to his protectors, writing, "Imagine the world's most wanted dissident brought to your door. Would you open it? They didn't even hesitate and I'll always be grateful for that."