Snowden shelterers in Hong Kong seek Canada asylum - lawyer

Alastair Sharp

(Adds Hong Kong official comments)

TORONTO, March 10 (Reuters) - Three families who helped

shelter former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward

Snowden in Hong Kong in 2013 after his mass leak of information

about surveillance programs have asked Canada for asylum, their

lawyer said on Friday.

The families - three Sri Lankan adults, a Filipina, and

three stateless children - have had long-pending asylum claims

in Hong Kong that they fear may soon be rejected, lawyer

Marc-Andre Seguin said in a phone interview from Hong Kong.

Seguin said the families had been thrust into the spotlight

after the September release of the Oliver Stone film "Snowden"

which referred to their role in Snowden's flight from the United

States in 2013 and, eventually, to Russia.

Seguin said the families and Hong Kong-based lawyer Robert

Tibbo, who introduced his clients to Snowden, now face

increasingly adverse circumstances in Hong Kong.

They said that they have been "actively sought by Sri Lankan

operatives" in recent months and fear for their safety in Hong

Kong, Seguin said. Reuters could not independently verify their

stories.

A spokeswoman for Canada's immigration minister said his

office does not comment on current or possible cases and could

not confirm or deny having received the applications.

Hong Kong authorities have yet to confirm that they are

investigating claims Sri Lankan operatives were working in the

territory, but a Security Bureau spokesman said it was illegal

for foreign agencies to carry out law enforcement action within

Hong Kong.

"Everyone in Hong Kong is protected by Hong Kong laws

regardless of his or her identity and background," the bureau

spokesman said.

Snowden's leaks of classified information about government

surveillance programs caused an international furor over the

reach of U.S. spy operations. His defenders see him as a

whistleblower who exposed the extent of government snooping on

citizens. He has been allowed to remain in Russia for another

three years and will next year qualify to apply for Russian

citizenship, his Russian lawyer was quoted as saying in January.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins and Greg Torode;

Editing by Frances Kerry and Sam Holmes)