HONG KONG - The former CIA employee who leaked top-secret information about U.S. surveillance programs remains in Hong Kong, where activists rallied in his support Thursday outside the American Consulate.
The news of Edward Snowden's whereabouts, revealed by an editor of a local newspaper that interviewed him Wednesday, is the first since he went to ground Monday after checking out of his hotel in the autonomous Chinese territory.
The interview with the South China Morning Post, which is believed to have been conducted at Snowden's behest, bore the marks of a canny step to win sympathy in Hong Kong, which maintains an independent Western-style legal system distinct from that in authoritarian mainland China, as well as a strong tradition of freedom of speech.
In the interview, Snowden, 29, said he wanted to stay in Hong Kong as long as he was welcome and that he had evidence of U.S. government computer hacking in the territory.
"He talked about coming to Hong Kong not to hide but to reveal information, so I think he really wanted to reach out to the public and that is probably why he chose us," said Chow Chung Yan, the newspaper's news editor.
Chow declined to give details about the interview other than to say it took place Wednesday at a secure location. He said it had been at the request of Snowden, who despite going public Sunday as the source of the information about the massive U.S. data collection programs has decided to remain out of sight amid speculation the U.S. may ask Hong Kong to extradite him for trial.
While Hong Kong's government has yet to formally comment on his case, his anti-surveillance stance has struck a chord with some members of the Hong Kong public.
About a dozen human rights activists rallied outside the U.S. Consulate in the city Thursday afternoon, chanting "Snowden is my brother" and carrying signs criticizing the U.S. government. A larger rally is planned for Saturday.
Chow said he wasn't at Wednesday's interview and could not comment on Snowden's mental state, appearance, or financial state. However, he said Snowden's remarks appeared to show he believed his actions were rational.
"It appears to me he is fully aware of his actions as well as the consequences of his actions. He believes what he is doing is correct and thought this out well, so it's not an irrational decision," Chow said.
Snowden arrived in Hong Kong from his home in Hawaii on May 20, just after taking leave from National Security Agency contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which has since fired him from his job as a computer systems analyst.