Hong Kong (CNN) -- Chinese Internet users have come out in strong support of American data leaker Edward Snowden, with many calling on Hong Kong to refuse handing him over to the United States should an extradition request be made.
The former intelligence contractor's presence in Hong Kong, having fled his life in Hawaii in order to leak details of the National Security Agency's Prism surveillance program, has been a hot topic on Chinese micro-blogging site Sina Weibo. Snowden's name was one of the top-ranked current affairs topics on the site, as Internet users discussed the revelations.
Users were typically supportive of the 29-year old, who is believed to still be in Hong Kong after having checked out of his hotel Monday, with many commending his courage in exposing the secret surveillance program.
"He is brave. He is a real fighter for human rights. Now he is in China, we should protect him," wrote Beijing-based user Xiaodong Wang, a view echoed by a user named Sunflower, from Suzhou. "Beijing should support Hong Kong to provide asylum for him."
Another user, Blue Sky, extended the greeting: "Welcome to China!" while Beijing-based Chow Kat described Snowden as a "true hero." "I wish him the best. The situation is very tricky," Chow Kat added.
Snowden's actions in leaking classified national security information have placed him in a precarious situation in which all his "options are bad," he told The Guardian, the British newspaper which broke the story. "Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third party partners."
U.S. authorities have started a criminal investigation, but have not yet issued a request for Snowden's extradition.
Snowden said he had chosen Hong Kong as a refuge due to the former British colony's record on the issue of free speech and commitment to the right of political dissent. But many observers believe Snowden has scant chance of avoiding U.S. authorities, citing an extradition treaty signed between the U.S. and Hong Kong in 1996, shortly before the colony was handed back to Beijing.
Many Sina Weibo users shared this pessimistic view of Snowden's prospects.
"Snowden picked the wrong place to hide. He will surely be killed," wrote user Juren, from Zhongshan, a view echoed by Beijing-based Guoxiang Wang. "The CIA will try to kill him no matter where he hides."
A user with the handle Ponka wrote that "China will definitely deport him," while Taipei-based Weimang Sun thundered against the notion: "Whoever hands him over to the U.S. imperialists will be a traitor to the nation."
Sunny Gemini, a user from Beijing, saw the scandal as highlighting the similarities between the U.S. and China, despite their different political systems. "Any government ... is unreliable. They prefer to control everything, no matter whether a democratic or non-democratic regime." On the other hand, the user wrote, at least in a democracy "the media has the right to write about it and help to improve the system," adding that similar revelations could never be made in China.
Beijing-based user Flying to the Stars said the disclosures about the secret surveillance program were unsurprising. "The American TV drama 'Homeland' has long suggested this is the truth."
Xueqiao Ma and Alexis Lai contributed to this report.