HK 'acted on its own' in Libyan rendition case

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2011, 12:00am


Beijing has defended Hong Kong's controversial role in the British-led rendition of a suspected terrorist from China to Libya.

It said the city's administration had 'full authority and discretion' to grant permission to people entering or leaving the city.

The Foreign Ministry statement in response to a Sunday Morning Post inquiry is the first time Beijing has commented on the case. Beijing said it was aware of recent reports detailing the rendition in 2004 of Sami al-Saadi via Chek Lap Kok airport. Saadi recently described six years of torture in the jails of ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi upon his return to the country - despite CIA documents showing Hong Kong authorities had asked for assurances that he and his family would be humanely treated once back in Libya.

'The said Libyan jihadist was arrested at the Hong Kong airport for using a fake passport,' the ministry statement said. 'According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong has the full authority and discretion to grant permission to people to enter or leave the city,' it said and referred further requests for information to Hong Kong departments.

In Hong Kong, Security Bureau officials remained tight-lipped about the matter, repeating their earlier statement that they did not discuss individual cases. But legislators and human rights advocates said Saadi's story raised many questions and authorities should clarify what happened.

James To Kun-sun, a Democratic Party legislator and chairman of the Legco security panel, worried it 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.

A deportation usually allows some flexibility as to the destination. An extradition is governed by a formal request from another state and is based on an existing agreement - something that Hong Kong does not have with Libya.

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly also expressed concern, saying the usual procedures for either deportation or extradition 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 United Nations' Convention Against Torture.

Hong Kong has long been criticised for lacking a coherent law regulating refugees and torture claimants, despite observing the convention. It presented a draft bill on assessing torture claims to the Legislative Council in June.

Saadi's case came to light through secret documents found in Tripoli after Gaddafi forces had fled. They reveal how Hong Kong had been linked to the rendition programme, led by the Central Intelligence Agency, which saw al-Qaeda suspects sent to foreign prisons where torture was common. The flight Saadi was on was the first one Britain's MI6 intelligence service ran under the programme, and he has threatened to sue the British government and give evidence to a judiciary inquiry investigating the Hong Kong link.

Saadi earlier told British media he had been living in exile on the mainland when he was 'tricked' by M16 agents into travelling to Hong Kong for an interview at the British consulate about his return to Britain. He was arrested trying to enter Hong Kong with his wife and three children on a fake French passport.

Within a week he and his wife were handcuffed and, with their children, placed on a private Egyptian jet and flown to Tripoli. Saadi was a key member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group - a mujahideen network opposed to Gaddafi but also linked to al-Qaeda - and had trained in the group's camps in Pakistan in the early 1990s.

It remains unclear what, if any, role Beijing played.

The US State Department said last week China played an 'important role' in counterterrorism efforts in the wake of the September 11 attacks, including allowing the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to open a Beijing office in 2002.

'Counterterrorism is one of the main aims of the FBI's Beijing office,' said Li Wei , director of the Centre for Counterterrorism Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing. Both sides had stepped up efforts to share intelligence after the 9/11 attacks, Li said.

Professor Jia Qingguo , associate dean of Peking University's school of international studies, said China's vow soon after the 9/11 attacks indicated it was willing to co-operate with the US in counterterrorism efforts. 'China also needs help in the fight against terrorism in Xinjiang . And the country needs to co-operate with others,' Jia said.