Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam says local police played no part in the arrest at sea of 12 fleeing Hongkongers by Chinese authorities, after a media report that the group’s speedboat had been tracked by the city government’s aviation department.
The 12, some of whom faced court cases in Hong Kong, were allegedly headed to Taiwan when their boat was stopped by Chinese marine police on August 23 and taken to the mainland. Ten have been formally arrested for illegal border crossing and two for helping the others escape Hong Kong.
Relatives have been refused access to the group. They have urged Hong Kong authorities to press China to return the group to Hong Kong, which has a separate legal system to the mainland.
Pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily reported on Monday that Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service (GFS), which is not part of the police force, had allegedly tracked the speedboat before it was stopped.
It cited data from flight tracking website FlightAware, which showed a GFS fixed-wing aircraft “B-LVB” took off from Hong Kong International Airport at 4.19 am on August 23.
According to the report, “B-LVB” circled around Sai Kung, Tung Lung Chau and Kwo Chau Islands for about three hours. It climbed from 1,000 metres to 2,000 metres at around 7 am, which coincided with the time Hong Kong police said the 12 Hongkongers boarded a speedboat arranged by a smuggling syndicate at Po Toi O pier in Sai Kung.
The aircraft then travelled towards southeastern Hong Kong waters at around 7.30 am and flew in circles, the tracking records showed. Police have said the speedboat entered mainland waters through the southeastern side of the boundary with Hong Kong waters at around 7.30 am.
Police earlier said the speedboat was intercepted in waters under Chinese jurisdiction (21°54’00”N, 114°53’00” E) at around 9 am. Flight records cited by Apply Daily showed the GFS aircraft was 28 kilometres away from the interception point at 8.14 am.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam, who has worked as a pilot, told Apple Daily it was “very likely” that the GFS aircraft was conducting surveillance on the speedboat, and said the Hong Kong government might have informed the mainland law enforcement agency about it.
In response to an HKFP enquiry, the aviation service said on Wednesday they would not comment on Apple Daily’s report: “In accordance with the established practice, aircraft deployment and navigation details involved in flight missions will not be disclosed.”
Asked about the newspaper report at a press conference on Tuesday, Lam refused to comment on what she called operational details but said the police force was not involved in the case. “I believe a tiny fraction of people have not given up on any opportunity to smear the Hong Kong government, to attack the police, to fabricate this and that… the police have absolutely no role to play in this particular case.”
Lam said the nature of the case was simple and straightforward – the detainees were alleged to have committed serious crimes in Hong Kong, and should have stayed to face their legal liabilities.
Among the dozen Hongkongers in Shenzhen police custody is pro-democracy activist Andy Li, who was arrested by Hong Kong police on suspicion of violating the Beijing-imposed national security law. The sweeping legislation criminalises secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which are broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure.
Upon fleeing the city and illegally crossing the border, the arrested individuals would have to bear the legal consequences in that jurisdiction, Lam said.
“If we continue to labour on misrepresentations and wrong news and so on, it is very unhealthy for Hong Kong society.”