Such is the case for the group of refugees in Hong Kong who helped to shelter Snowden in 2013. This group of asylum seekers, nicknamed Snowden’s Guardian Angels, have been living in danger, under consistent pressure and surveillance from the Hong Kong Government.
Now, the story has unravelled further, as Robert Tibbo, the Canadian lawyer representing Snowden, deals with a slew of ‘anonymous complaints’ sent to him by the Hong Kong Bar Association. Tibbo believes that the string of dubious legal demands have been directed at him, to topple his future as attorney to Snowden and the Refugees. If this is correct, then the fallout could prove devastating to all parties involved.
With the pressure mounting against him, we spoke with human rights lawyer Robert Tibbo, to try to find out more about the situation.
Sputnik: When was it that you first began to feel targeted by the authorities?
Sputnik: Would you say that was a strategy on their part?
Robert Tibbo: Absolutely. It was a clear strategy, because they actually reactivated the Snowden Refugee cases all as one cluster, as one group, but these clients’ primary refugee claims were unrelated to each other.
Sputnik: Would you say it was because of your dealings with Edward Snowden, that the Refugees, and yourself, are being targeted?
Robert Tibbo: This is not Edward Snowden's fault in any way. And we all support him. None of us have any regrets assisting Mr Snowden, myself being his lawyer, past and present, and the Snowden refugees, having provided food, shelter, and humanity to Ed. But yes. It's all simply because the Hong Kong government is very uncomfortable with Mr Snowden, and other governments being uncomfortable with Mr Snowden- and because of my clients association with Mr Snowden, and myself as his lawyer, its clear the Hong Kong Government took steps to systematically target my clients and to target myself.
If you look at the statements made by the refugees, they are very proud of having helped Snowden. They simply saw him as another human being, a fellow refugee at that time, who was in distress, and needed the kind of assistance that they had all received when they were fleeing their home countries.
Sputnik: Can you give us a lowdown on what’s happened here, as far as I know you received an 'anonymous complaint', and then it all spiralled out from there?
Robert Tibbo: After September 2016, the Immigration department targeted the Snowden Refugee's, and then they targeted me, to try to obstruct and interfere with me, in an attempt to try and deprive my clients of effective legal representation. And actually by the end of 2016, early 2017, the immigration department made formal requests to have me removed as the lawyer for the Snowden Refugees. The Social Welfare Department in Hong Kong targeted my clients as well. They actually asked my clients about Mr Snowden. They said no, “We are not going to discuss Mr Snowden, to talk to Mr Tibbo.” Then the Social Welfare department stripped away most, if not all humanitarian assistance to the Snowden Refugees.
At the end of December 2016, the Sri Lankan police flew into Hong Kong, and clearly the Hong Kong police allowed them to come in, and they targeted my clients as well. They started arresting my clients.
In parallel to all of this, there were anonymous complaints made against me. In March 2017, I received a formal complaint, entitled: 'Complaint lodged against you, in relation to Mr Edward Snowden.'
It's crystal clear that the Bar Association was targeting me because of my association with Mr Snowden. In that letter, it starts off: 'The standard committee and discipline, notes that an anonymous complaint has been made against you, about your role in the escape from Hong Kong, of Mr Edward Snowden- a former CIA employee.' It's quite obvious to me that this is politically motivated.
Within the March 8th Hong Kong Bar Association complaint, the Standard Committee on Discipline had attached two pages of questions for me. I looked at these questions, and I was shocked, because these questions were very broad and ambiguous. I realised the Bar Association was on a phishing expedition. They wanted to know how I had agreed to assist in Mr Snowden's escape. Now, the Bar Association was basically relying on what journalists were saying in the newspaper, and this is not always accurate.
I can read out my legal obligations to provide advice to Mr Snowden, but I've never said that "I embarked on this incredible journey to help Mr Snowden." It's the journalists who take liberties at describing situations to make it interesting for the public. So on April the 5th, I wrote to the Bar Association, and I said that I needed more time to address these complaints, and their very wide scope of questioning. I put the Bar Association on notice that I was going to be asking for disclosure.
On August the 3rd, 2017, I received a letter from the Bar. They said, and this is extraordinary, that they would not provide me with any other documents, except, they provided me with two letters, from a 'Large Group of Exasperated Barristers', and one email from the Bar Chairman to the administrator. I opened up the letter, and to my shock, there were two different letters, which are available to the public, where these large groups of barristers had made these complaints against me.
Robert Tibbo: Basically, in simplest terms, I've been targeted by the Hong Kong Bar and the authorities, simply for doing my job, without favour.
Sputnik: And is it normal for the Bar to entertain these 'Anonymous Complaints'?
Robert Tibbo: It's absolutely not to be done. It's unheard of in the common law world, of a Bar Association entertaining anonymous complaints against a member of the Bar. I was accused of putting my clients at risk. I was also accused of basically exploiting my clients to make money, which is outrageous.
Sputnik: Do you feel like this legal action is coming from the Bar, or is there a higher power at play here?
Robert Tibbo: A number of people have commented on this. The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, was interviewed by Steffen Arora of Der Standard. Manfred Nowak makes it very clear that in his view, there is significant powerful influence upon the Hong Kong Bar Association, for the association to be acting in such a way. Other people have commented globally about the Hong Kong Bar Associations conduct, including the film director Oliver Stone. He calls the Bar Association conduct ‘Outrageous’. The National Post of Canada, Tom Blackwell recorded that. Definitely the opinions are that there are external forces that have put pressure on the Hong Kong Bar Association, to behave in such an egregious way.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.