The row over 12 Hong Kong criminal suspects held across the border continues to draw local and international concern. Nearly two month have passed since the news came to light but there appears to be no progress other than volleys of criticism or defence from their sympathisers and the government. It is important that the rights of the accused be fully respected and that the case can be satisfactorily resolved in accordance with the law and established practices. That the government has refused to ask mainland authorities to hand back the fugitives is unsurprising. Officials are adamant that the 12, who are facing different charges in connection with last year’s social unrest and other cases, have breached mainland law and must therefore go through the relevant procedures there. Security chief John Lee Ka-chiu took it further on Wednesday, saying that asking for their return would encourage more suspects to abscond. The government, he said, would not give in to opposition claims, referring to accusations that the Government Flying Service had under police orders conducted surveillance when the suspects allegedly fled for Taiwan in late August. Lee and others have repeatedly denied playing any role in the arrests, but remain coy about whether they were aware of the escape. The accusation is disturbing. It would be, as critics say, tantamount to deliberately allowing fugitives to slip into the hands of others. Hongkongers held in mainland China ‘selected lawyers’ from approved list The warning about more suspects jumping bail is intriguing. Does it mean more suspects would abscond if the government sought the return of fugitives from other jurisdictions? It is hard to believe fugitives would still risk fleeing via mainland waters. In any case, the government’s evasive response does nothing to clear the air. A series of campaigns is being organised in the city and overseas to secure the return of the Hongkongers. Well-intentioned as these may be, experience shows that pressure and confrontation may not yield the best results. The Hong Kong government is, after all, in the best position to take up the case with the mainland authorities. Transparency aside, the legitimate rights of the accused should be respected in accordance with the law. It is in the interest of all sides that the case be resolved satisfactorily.