From Chek Lap Kok to Libyan torture cell

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2012, 12:00am


New allegations have emerged of the role Hong Kong authorities played in the arrest, detention, interrogation and forced repatriation of a Libyan rebel leader and his young family on a secret flight out of Chek Lap Kok airport to the torture chambers of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Lawyers for Sami al-Saadi - an outspoken opponent of Gaddafi, who was forced out of power and killed by a mob last year - are preparing to sue the Hong Kong government for damages over his and his young family's alleged rendition.

The South China Morning Post has obtained documents, forming the basis of the legal action, that tell of the alleged flight in 2004 and the weeks leading up to it.

Hong Kong officials have stayed silent since details of the secret rendition first emerged last year.

According to the papers, on the chartered flight from Hong Kong to Libya, Saadi's four young children were taken by armed guards onto the plane - which had its lights turned off - without their parents.

The two daughters, 12 and six at the time, were forced to sit separately, even from each other, and a Libyan woman said she would monitor their every word, while the two sons, then aged 11 and nine, were seated elsewhere on the plane, petrified that their parents were not on it.

The 12-year-old screamed as the plane, still with no lights on and empty of passengers except for the family and the Libyan guards, started to taxi. She tried to run towards the front, but was forcibly stopped.

Saadi and his wife were handcuffed before boarding and forced to sit at the front, out of view of their children. When she recognised the Libyan dialect of the security agents on board, she screamed, fearing her husband and family might be killed, the papers say.

The family had not been told where they were going.

During the 17-hour flight, Saadi lost consciousness due to his diabetes. The children were told by the Libyan agents to say goodbye to their mother and father, implying their parents were about to die.

After they landed at a military airport in Tripoli, Saadi's wife and the children were held at Tajura prison for the next 21/2 months. Saadi, who had spent 16 years evading the grip of Gaddafi, was detained for the next three years by the former dictator and says he was severely tortured.

He was eventually freed from the Abu Salim jail last August by rebels.

Saadi, who fled Libya in 1988, had previously had political asylum in Britain, where he lived for more than a decade from 1993. As relations between Britain and Libya shifted, Saadi sought refuge in mainland China and moved his family to Guangzhou in 2003. When their safety was again threatened in early 2004, he made plans to move to Norway.

In March 2004, they flew from Hong Kong to Beijing where they were to fly to Helsinki, Finland, before transiting to Oslo, Norway.

However, Beijing authorities sent Saadi - a suspected Libyan terrorist who also operated under his nom de guerre Abu Munthir - and his family back to Hong Kong because they were travelling on fake passports. Back in Hong Kong, Saadi, his wife and four young children were immediately arrested and detained.

Saadi, 37 at the time, was separated from his wife and jailed in a small cell, which had one bunk bed, with his sons. She was held in a similar cell with the daughters. The next day, the family was moved to a 'security room' where they stayed almost two weeks. Between seven and 10 guards carrying loaded weapons watched their every move, the papers say. The family was not allowed to wash or change clothes. Armed guards accompanied them to the toilet and one guard stood in the cubicle.

Saadi and his wife were interrogated several times about their lives in Britain and asked if they knew certain individuals.

About a week into their detention, the family was told they would be flying back to the mainland. They were escorted under armed guard onto a commercial flight, but about half an hour later they were taken back to the 'security room' where they were kept for another three days.

On March 28, 2004, the family was forced onto the dark plane, since revealed to be a chartered Boeing 777-200 operated by Egypt Air.

Saadi's ordeal


Sami al-Saadi born in Tripoli, Libya


Active in Libyan mujahideen groups, Saadi enters Pakistan, trains in mountain camps and operates in circles close to Osama bin Laden. Known as Abu Munthir.


Active in anti-Gaddafi Islamist groups. Seeks asylum in Britain.

Early 2004

Continues exile in Guangzhou with his family. Fears for family's safety leads him to seek asylum in Norway.

March 15

Flies to Beijing but is sent back to Hong Kong over fake passports. Arrested at Chep Lap Kok airport by the authorities and held overnight in a 'security room'. His wife and daughters are separated from him and his sons.

March 23-26

The family are forced to board a commercial flight under armed guard but 30 minutes later are told to return to the 'security room' where they stay for three days

March 23

CIA fax sent to Tripoli on Hong Kong's demands for assurances and a non-Libyan plane to deport Saadi

March 25

British prime minister Tony Blair meets Libya's Muammar Gaddafi

March 28

Saadi and his family deported to Tripoli. When they land, they are brought to Tajoura prison, where they spend the next two and a half months. Saadi is held for the next three years at the same prison.