Assange says Hong Kong's reputation hurt by rendition and Dotcom cases

Wikileaks founder cites role in rendition of Libyan man and seizure of Dotcom's assets

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 5:28pm

Hong Kong's alleged role in the secret 2004 rendition of a Libyan man and his family greatly damaged the city's reputation, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says.

The seizure of assets belonging to former Hong Kong resident Kim Dotcom in 2012 had also hurt the city's standing as a safe place to do business, said the freedom-of-information activist.

He was speaking by phone last week from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been holed up for more than a year to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex charges.

"There's no doubt that the Libyan dissident case has damaged Hong Kong's reputation," Assange said, referring to Sami al-Saadi, who was considered by the West to have ties to al-Qaeda.

"Similarly, the combined raid on Kim Dotcom's assets by Hong Kong authorities and the FBI has damaged the city's reputation."

In March 2004, Saadi - along with his wife and four young children - was forced onto a flight out of Chek Lap Kok to Tripoli, where he endured years of torture by henchmen of the then Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

CIA documents detail the Hong Kong government's complicity with British and US spies in ensuring the rendition was carried out quickly and quietly.

As a signatory to the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture, Hong Kong is obligated not to send people back to a state where they could be tortured.

"Grave violations of human rights are always a surprise even if you understand the interlinkages between different governments," Assange said.

"Hong Kong needs to keep its reputation for following the rule of law and for being impartial."

In the case of Dotcom, the internet entrepreneur who is fighting extradition from New Zealand to the US on mass copyright charges, Assange said Hong Kong's "strong links to the FBI" were risky.

"There is a global phenomenon in security agencies making alliances with each other … and that's an unhealthy one," he said.

In January last year, about 100 customs officers raided Dotcom's penthouse suite at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Wan Chai, seizing digital evidence and millions in assets. Three other locations linked to the now-defunct Megaupload, a file-sharing website, were also raided.

Assange, who described Hong Kong as a "vibrant city", also weighed in on the debate over universal suffrage by 2017.

"That would be nice but unlikely," Assange said. "We must be careful that when we give people the vote we are actually giving them a meaningful vote and it's not just a marketing stunt by the people who already have power."

Property ownership was at the core of political and financial power, he said. "If there's no ability to change who owns what, then the electoral system doesn't have much power and therefore democracy is largely illusory."