Asylum seekers who sheltered Edward Snowden for a period in 2013 stand outside of Hong Kong's immigration department during a press conference in Hong Kong, China, May 15, 2017. 

© 2017 AP Images

(Toronto) – Canada should urgently intervene to admit the asylum-seekers who assisted Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s immigration, refugees and citizenship minister.

A special application has been made for one of the men, Ajith Debagama Kankanamalage, who is suffering acute post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues as a result of past torture and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of the military and military police in Sri Lanka. He faces the very real prospect that his upcoming appeal of his application for asylum in Hong Kong will be rejected and that he will be returned to danger.

“Canada has been dragging its feet on these applications, apparently waiting out the protracted legal process, and likely rejection by Hong Kong, and the psychological toll on these poor people has been enormous,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. “It is shameful that Ajith Kankanamalage, who fled horrific torture and who still has persecutors tracking him, is still unsafe and unprotected, all the more so because he helped Edward Snowden, whom he knew only as a fellow asylum seeker.”

All seven of the asylum-seekers who helped provide shelter for Snowden during the brief period when he was in Hong Kong face abusers in their homelands, who are now on the alert because of publicity surrounding Snowden’s case. All seven also have sponsors willing to resettle them in Quebec province. Hong Kong admits extremely few refugees, and has rejected all seven, whose cases are on appeal. In addition to the danger they would face if returned to their home countries, Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department officers were known to be searching for Kankanamalage and other Sri Lankans in Hong Kong.

Kankanamalage’s appeal hearing in Hong Kong is scheduled for June 25 to June 27, but his psychiatrist is doubtful he can participate meaningfully or safely, given his acute post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and the re-traumatization he suffers when he is asked to discuss the experiences that caused him to flee Sri Lanka. Hong Kong authorities rejected the asylum seekers’ claims in September 2016 and his mental state has deteriorated sharply since that time. His doctors and lawyers fear that his life and safety are at risk.