Rendition puts HK on trial

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am



West's respect for human rights in question

Local and Western media often carry extensive coverage of activists on the mainland being tortured and killed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP's treatment of dissidents is condemnable. But is the West as respectful of human rights as it claims when it comes to handling opposition?

The Saadi case is the first time Hong Kong has featured in the CIA-led programme of hand-delivering terrorist suspects to prisons in the Middle East and eastern Europe where torture is known to be used during interrogation.

The Saadi case suggested extensive work by both Britain's MI6 and America's CIA in Hong Kong. Saadi's departure was engineered by MI6 and the CIA after formal dealings with local authorities. British agents planned Saadi's capture, while the CIA became involved after Hong Kong objected to a Libyan flight landing here, and offered to bankroll another flight from a third country.

If the CIA and MI6 did in fact request Beijing's co-operation, this weakens the West's condescending stance on human rights - a position already challenged by the fact they carry out rendition.

After all, the Saadi case shows that the Western democracies that claim the high ground when it comes to human rights are not that different from the CCP when cracking down on dissenting voices.

Foggy human rights laws

Legislators and human rights advocates say Saadi's story raises many questions, and authorities should clarify what happened.

During detention, Saadi claims Hong Kong authorities denied him access to a phone to contact the British consulate, interrogated him, did not provide proper sleeping facilities and refused to tell him why he and his family were being detained. Further, Saadi was not offered the chance to hire legal representatives or stand trial.

The fact his family were also detained is regarded as outrageous. Lawyers representing Saadi claim they were all subjected to 'unlawful detention' as well as 'inhuman and degrading treatment'.

After detaining someone, Hong Kong police must charge them with an offence, or take them before a judge, within 48 hours.

Hong Kong has long been criticised for lacking a coherent law regulating refugees and torture claimants. This case is another example: despite observing the United Nations' Convention Against Torture, which forbids states to transport people to a country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured, Saadi and his family were sent to Libya.

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly said the usual procedures for either deportation or extradition - legal means by which a criminal may be ejected from a country - did not seem to have been followed. 'There are a great many questions. Certainly it sounds like Hong Kong might have been in breach of its international obligations,' he said, referring to the UN convention.

James To Kun-sun, a Democratic Party legislator and chairman of the Legco security panel, worries Saadi's story could set a bad example.

'It is all very grey ... my guess is immigration revoked any consent to stay, but his departure doesn't seem to have been handled as a deportation or an extradition,' To said. 'This de facto extradition sets a very worrying precedent.' He is considering formally raising the matter in Legco.

Meanwhile, Beijing has defended the Hong Kong administration's decision to send Saadi to Libya. 'According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong has the full authority and discretion to grant permission to people to enter or leave the city,' the Foreign Ministry statement said.


Lawmakers in Hong Kong have demanded the government explain allegations that it colluded with US and British secret services to deport a suspected Libyan terrorist and his family to their homeland in 2004, where he faced torture and persecution.

When Sami al-Saadi and his family arrived at Chek Lap Kok airport in the spring of 2004, they believed they were heading to safety. Instead, after almost two weeks in detention at the airport under questionable conditions, Hong Kong authorities handcuffed Saadi and his wife before forcing them and their four young children, all aged under 14, aboard a Libya-bound plane.

When the plane doors opened, they were greeted by former Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's agents. Saadi's wife screamed, fearing she would be murdered, and one of Saadi's young daughters fainted.

Saadi, a diabetic, also went into shock and fainted on the flight after his blood sugar reached dangerous levels. 'My first feeling when the door to the rendition plane opened in Hong Kong and I saw the Libyans was a mixture of sadness and anger,' he said. 'The British had guaranteed my safety. It never occurred to me they would deliberately send anyone to Gaddafi's torture chambers.'

The government remains silent on the alleged secret rendition of Saadi, a case that has attracted international attention and prompted lawsuits against the British and Hong Kong governments.

In a letter sent to the Hong Kong Department of Justice last week, Saadi's lawyers set out the sequence of events that led to his family being forced onto a chartered Boeing 777-200 operated by EgyptAir, on which they were the only passengers, and which took them to a military base in Tripoli, the capital of Libya.

The family was transferred immediately to a prison and Saadi was tortured, beaten and later placed on death row.

Saadi's lawyers have accused the Hong Kong government of complicity in torture, conspiracy to injure, misfeasance in public office and negligence. Before boarding the flight in March 2004, the family had spent almost two weeks in Hong Kong under armed guard, without an explanation of why they were being detained.

The Security Bureau and the Department of Justice have refused to discuss the case or even confirm Hong Kong's involvement since the incident came to light last October.

Saadi was reportedly a chief strategist for the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which opposed Gaddafi. For 16 years, Saadi had been living in exile, including a 10-year stint in Britain, where he was granted indefinite leave to remain in 1993.

Saadi sought refuge in Guangzhou in 2003 as relations between Libya and Britain shifted. But in early 2004, after he began to fear for his family's safety on the mainland, he made plans to seek safe haven in Norway.

Saadi was named in Libyan security documents as one of Osama bin Laden's 'intimates'.

Timeline Saadi's ordeal


Sami al-Saadi born in Tripoli, Libya.


Active in Libyan mujahideen groups, Saadi enters Pakistan, trains in mountain camps and works in circles close to Osama bin Laden, the late al-Qaeda leader.


Saadi becomes active in anti-Gaddafi Islamist groups and seeks asylum in Britain.


Relations between Britain and Gaddafi warm and Saadi feels uncomfortable. Flees to Guangzhou with his family in 2003, hoping to eventually reach Norway where he will settle if he is granted asylum.

March 15, 2004

Saadi and his family travel via Hong Kong to Beijing, planning to head to Oslo from there. In Beijing, they are sent back to Hong Kong for having false passports. Saadi is arrested at Chek Lap Kok airport. Saadi and his two sons are separated from his wife and two daughters. He and his wife are interrogated.

March 23-26, 2004

Family forced to board a commercial flight under armed guard but 30 minutes later are told to return to the 'security room'. They stay there for three days.

March 23, 2004

CIA fax sent to Tripoli detailing Hong Kong's demands for a non-Libyan plane to deport Saadi.

March 25 2004

British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets Gaddafi.

March 28 2004

Saadi and family placed on a chartered flight to Tripoli. When they land, they are taken to prison.

August 23, 2011

Saadi freed from Abu Salim jail after rebels storm the site. He was carried out, weighing just 44kg.

April 18, 2012

Saadi sues former British foreign secretary Jack Straw for his government's involvement in illegal rendition.

June 13, 2012

Saadi sues HK government for involvement in rendition.


'We don't comment on individual cases.'

Spokesperson for the Department of Justice when asked if it had received the letter from Saadi detailing his legal action against the Hong Kong government

'We don't comment on individual cases.'

Security Bureau spokesperson when asked to comment on the Saadi case

'The night before I was finally taken, I could hear the guards talking in Chinese as I lay on the chairs. I couldn't understand what they were saying but I heard them mention 'CIA' four or five times.'

Sami al-Saadi

'Rendition to Gaddafi's Libya would have been a terrifying ordeal for any grown man - it is unimaginable what it was like for Khadidja al-Saadi, a 12-year-old girl, and her three younger siblings. Correspondence seized from the fallen Gaddafi regime shows Hong Kong officials were heavily involved in this illegal operation, advising foreign spies how the kidnap could best be managed with a minimum of fuss in Hong Kong. All the al-Saadi family seek now is justice - and accountability for those responsible, so other families never face the awful fate they did.'

Cori Crider, legal director at legal action charity Reprieve