A group of Sri Lankan and Filipino refugees in Hong Kong had sheltered US whistleblower Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, until he fled to Russia from Hong Kong, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
The news article said at least four residents of Hong Kong had taken Mr. Snowden in when he fled the US in June 2013.
Only now have they decided to speak about the experience, revealing a new chapter in the odyssey that riveted the world after Mr. Snowden disclosed that the N.S.A. had been monitoring the calls, emails and web activity of millions of Americans and others.
At the time, governments and news outlets were scrambling to find the source of the leaks, which were published in The Guardian and The Washington Post. In an interview recorded in a hotel room, Mr. Snowden identified himself and revealed that he was in Hong Kong. Then he went into hiding. About two weeks later he turned up in Moscow.
It was never clear where Mr. Snowden was holed up during those critical days after leaving his room at the five-star Mira Hotel, when the US was demanding his return. As it turns out, he was staying with one Vanessa Mae Bondalian Rodel and her daughter who are from Philippines.
They were also seeking political asylum in Hong Kong and live in cramped, substandard apartment blocks in some of the city’s poorest districts.
They were all clients of one of Mr. Snowden’s Hong Kong lawyers, Robert Tibbo, who arranged for him to stay with them.
Six refugees who sheltered NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 in Hong Kong, before he fled to Moscow. From left to right: Ajith, Vanessa, Nadeeka and her husband Supun. (Handelsblatt)
After a few days with Ms. Rodel and her daughter, Mr. Snowden spent a night with Ajith Pushpakumara, 44, who said he fled to Hong Kong after being chained to a wall and tortured for deserting the army in his native Sri Lanka.
Mr. Pushpakumara said he had listened to online radio broadcasts about Mr. Snowden and was surprised to suddenly find him in the dingy apartment that he shared with several men. He realized Mr. Snowden was in the same situation he was, hiding in a small room. “I was worried about him,” he said.
Supun Thilina Kellapatha, his wife and their toddler also sheltered Mr. Snowden, putting him up for about three days in their 250-square-foot apartment.
Mr. Kellapatha, 32, who said he sought protection in Hong Kong after being tortured in Sri Lanka, described their guest as a tired man who was unfailingly polite.
“He said, ‘You are a good man,’ ” when he arrived at the apartment, Mr. Kellapatha recalled. “But I feel he is better than me, because he respected me.”
Mr. Kellapatha and his wife, Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis, said they were not worried about hosting Mr. Snowden. “I don’t think I take the risk,” he said. “He is the one who take the big risk.”
When Mr. Snowden left, he left the couple $200 under a pillow, which they said they used to buy necessities for their daughter. “Sometimes I tell Supun, maybe he forgot us,” Ms. Nonis said. “I want to tell him: ‘Edward, how are you? We will never forget you.’ ”
After fleeing Hong Kong, Mr. Snowden was granted asylum in Russia. He has been unable to leave that country because he is wanted on espionage charges in the United States, but he routinely speaks to the press and at international conferences on government surveillance and civil liberties via video conference.