Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden who faces espionage charges for recently disclosing secret anti-terrorism programs run by the U.S. government, has left Hong Kong and is heading toward Russia with his final destination unclear.
Hong Kong officials said early Sunday that Snowden left the country "on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel."
"As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong," Hong Kong government officials said in a statement.
Snowden left Hong Kong and "bound for a democratic nation via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks," according to a statement from Wikileaks.
"The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr Snowden's rights and protecting him as a person. What is being done to Mr Snowden and to Mr Julian Assange - for making or facilitating disclosures in the public interest - is an assault against the people," said former Spanish Judge Mr Baltasar Garzon, legal director of Wikileaks and lawyer for Julian Assange in a statement.
Charges Against Snowden
A one-page criminal complaint filed on June 14 outlined the charges against Snowden. The document was unsealed Friday night.
Snowden has been charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willfully communicating classified intelligence. A government affidavit supporting the charges remained sealed.
As a result of the charges, authorities were seeking to extradite Snowden, who was hiding in Hong Kong since fleeing overseas with a cache of sensitive U.S. documents he obtained while working with the NSA in Hawaii.
Snowden's disclosures to The Washington Post and The Guardian in London confirmed massive government surveillance of telephone and online activity inside the United States.
U.S. officials insist the move has gravely harmed national security, while others have hailed Snowden as a hero shedding light on government overreach.
As first reported by The Washington Post, the charges had been secretly filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Snowden's employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is based.