HONG KONG -- Chanting slogans like "Shame, U.S. government," demonstrators marched from a downtown park to the United States Consulate on Saturday to urge that Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor accused of leaking documents about American surveillance programs, be allowed to remain in Hong Kong.
One of the protest's organizers, Tom Grundy, a British expatriate, called on China and the United States to refrain from pressuring Hong Kong about Mr. Snowden. "We want an independent judiciary to decide on the case," Mr. Grundy said.
Hong Kong, which was ruled by Britain until its return to China in 1997, retains a legal system that is widely respected for its independence in its status as a special administrative region of China. Some activists, however, have criticized recent court appointees as having more pro-Beijing connections than their predecessors.
In his first comment on Mr. Snowden's case, Hong Kong's chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, indicated Saturday that Hong Kong would follow established procedures if it is asked to surrender Mr. Snowden to the United States. He also indicated that the Hong Kong government would look into Mr. Snowden's disclosure that the National Security Agency might have gained covert access to the main hub of Internet servers here, located at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"When the relevant mechanism is activated, the Hong Kong S.A.R. government will handle the case of Mr. Snowden in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong," Mr. Leung said in a statement. "Meanwhile, the government will follow up on any incidents related to the privacy or other rights of the institutions or people in Hong Kong being violated."
Though the protest was small -- organizers said about 900 showed up, but the police said it was more like 300 -- it underlined the political maneuvering set off by Mr. Snowden's arrival here. He has disclosed classified documents about the United States government's monitoring of the Internet in the United States and in mainland China and Hong Kong.
Saturday's march was organized by more than two dozen groups advocating free speech, democracy and personal liberties on the Internet. Many of the groups, including the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, have long been outspoken critics of China for restricting individual liberties.
"He should be given the right to stay in Hong Kong," Albert Ho, a former chairman of the Democratic Party, said in a speech at the start of the rally. "We must not let anybody intervene -- we must be able to show that Hong Kong will not give in to pressure from other governments."
In the last two days, the state news media in mainland China have embraced Mr. Snowden and confirmed details to The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, about how the United States monitors Internet traffic on the mainland and in Hong Kong.
The official newspaper China Daily usually ignores pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, or derides them. But the lead story on its front page on Saturday described calls by democracy advocates in the legislature that Mr. Snowden not be sent back to the United States, and it discussed the planned demonstration, too.
Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party, said the Chinese government engages in far more extensive monitoring of phone calls and Internet activity in Hong Kong than the United States government does. And unlike the United States, the Chinese government has been willing to leak personal details of people's lives to the news media to punish them for not toeing the line politically, he said.
China Daily gave the most prominent position on its opinion page on Saturday to excerpts from a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong asserting that Mr. Snowden's disclosures had damaged the standing of democracy advocates and their admiration for the United States. "The latest leaks have put the local rights politicians in a rather awkward position by exposing their idol's true character," the column said.
Mr. Snowden has some committed supporters here. Dozens of protesters held banners in a light rain before the event began, and more arrived as the rain stopped.
"Snowden is being persecuted by a huge institution," said Marcus Ho, a retiree who said that he seldom attended rallies. "We must do something to help."
Calvin Yang contributed reporting.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.