Answers needed on HK rendition

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2011, 12:00am


The revelation that Hong Kong participated in a secret US-British operation to return a Libyan terror suspect to Tripoli in 2004 raises troubling questions. It had not previously been known that our city played a part in the 'war on terror' rendition flights which have been the subject of so much criticism and controversy. A full explanation of Hong Kong's role is needed.

Sami al-Saadi claims he was detained and tortured for six years by Muammar Gaddafi's regime after being flown to Tripoli from Chek Lap Kok. Confidential documents left in the abandoned office of Gaddafi's intelligence chief show Hong Kong handed over Saadi, who according to the documents was one of Osama bin Laden's 'intimates' and had trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan in the 1990s. The government is said to have objected to a Libyan flight landing in Hong Kong to take away the suspect and his family, prompting the US to arrange an Egyptian plane to fly them out instead.

It remains unclear why the rendition was done via Hong Kong. Saadi, also known as Abu Munthir, later said British agents had tricked him into coming to the city from the mainland, ostensibly to negotiate a return to Britain; he and his family were detained at the border while travelling on a false passport and sent to Libya. What is clear, according to the documents, is that the Hong Kong authorities demanded assurances they would be treated humanely after leaving Hong Kong. But Saadi says he was tortured in detention. Were the assurances sought from Hong Kong given? And what steps, if any, did our government take to see that the promises were kept?

The United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has applied to Hong Kong since 1992, requires states not to return anyone to countries where they face a risk of torture. The government should give a full account of Hong Kong's role. There are established procedures for deportations and extraditions, but it is not clear that they were followed in this case. The Foreign Ministry says Hong Kong has the authority and discretion to decide on people's exit and entry; that is the position as stated in the Basic Law. But it seems unlikely a rendition of this kind, involving several states, could have gone ahead without the knowledge and consent of Beijing.

There are many questions to be answered. Was this an isolated case, or were there other renditions from Hong Kong? How was the decision made? What procedures were followed? What is the government's policy on renditions? So far, the Security Bureau won't say; it has fallen back on the familiar and rather lame excuse that it does not comment on individual cases.

The issues raised are serious. They could harm our city's reputation and confidence in the rule of law. Silence will only breed suspicion.