Protesters hold up signs and a banner in Charter Garden at the start of the protest rally to support Edward Snowden in Hong Kong on Saturday.(Photo: Jessica Hromas, Getty Images)
HONG KONG - In a show of protest against U.S. surveillance programs and in support of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, several hundred people marched Saturday to the U.S. Consulate General and the offices of the Hong Kong government despite drizzly weather.
"I think it's not acceptable for the (National Security Agency) to spy" on everyone, said Patrick Cheung, who has been upset by claims former NSA contractor Snowden made about the agency's data gathering from U.S.-based Internet firms. "It's our right to have our privacy protected."
"Shame on NSA! Defend freedom of speech!" chanted marchers, who carried signs written in Chinese and English and wrapped in plastic to keep out the rain. "Protect Snowden!"
The march, backed by five opposition parties and 22 other organizations, included the presentation of protest letters addressed to U.S. Consul General Steve Young and the head of Hong Kong's government.
"We request you to stop running these surveillance programs against innocent Internet users in Hong Kong and around the world," read the letter to Young.
Before the rally, several representatives of a pro-China political party marched to the consulate to call for an end to the alleged U.S. hacking of Hong Kong computer systems, an allegation Snowden made to a local newspaper earlier in the week after he fled to the city.
Meanwhile, half of respondents in a survey of 509 residents conducted by university researchers on behalf of the South China Morning Post said they opposed the Hong Kong government turning Snowden over to U.S. authorities, while a third of respondents said they considered the NSA whistle-blower a hero.
"We are glad Snowden is brave enough to expose all the U.S. government's evil deeds," said James Hon, who marched Saturday as a leader of the League in Defence of Hong Kong's Freedom, a group that commonly participates in anti-Hong Kong government protests. "We should let Snowden live in Hong Kong and express his views freely."
Several Hong Kong legislators addressed the rally and others are planning to raise Snowden's allegations of U.S. hacking into Hong Kong computers with government ministers at a session Wednesday. Two legislators sent their own letter addressed to President Obama saying the NSA surveillance programs had "set a dangerous precedent and will likely be used to justify similar actions by authoritarian governments".
Back at the rally, marcher Venus Hui expressed a simple hope for the man at the center of the controversy.
"I hope Snowden can go back to the U.S. one day," he said.