Hong Kong-based human rights attorney Patricia Ho agrees.
"With the reports about the treatment of Bradley Manning, there's an arguable case for him facing [cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment]," Ho told the South China Morning Post. She said that a recent Hong Kong appeals court ruling prohibits such extraditions.
An application for refugee status would be handled administratively and not by the courts, Ho said.
Cosmo Beatson, of refugee-assisting Hong Kong-based organization Vision First, told the Morning Post although refugee status might be possible for Snowden, he would "have to surrender his passport, and he'd have to stay in Hong Kong until his claim is settled. I don't see him wanting to give that up if he's being chased."
For years the U.S. and China have engaged in tit-for-tat reports on the state of human rights in the other country. U.S. State Department reports mention Tibet and China's treatment of dissidents, and Chinese reports mention U.S. treatment of minorities, gun violence and economic mobility in the communist country's bid to expose perceived U.S. hypocrisy on human rights.
China's report on human rights in the U.S. in 2012, released in April, specifically mentions Internet privacy.
"The National Security Agency collects purely domestic communications of Americans in a 'significant and systematic' way, intercepting and storing 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications every day," the report alleged. "The U.S. Congress approved a bill in 2012 that authorizes the government to conduct warrantless wiretapping and electronic communications monitoring, a move that violates people's rights to privacy," the reports says, apparently referencing the reauthorization of FISA amendments.
"Why not give him asylum?" an unnamed European diplomat told the Morning Post. "A human rights case in which the Chinese grant asylum to an American - what a master stroke for Beijing."
In addition to Snowden's evident exposure of large-scale surveillance of Americans, he also provided documents showing President Barack Obama may have approved cyberattacks on China. The Guardian reported Friday Obama ordered government officials in October to draft a list of U.S. cyberattack targets. The report came as Obama met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in California. Earlier this year the U.S. accused the Chinese military of hacking military secrets. "We hack everyone everywhere," a source who may have been Snowden told the Guardian. "We like to make a distinction between us and the others. But we are in almost every country in the world."