Allegations that Hong Kong Government Surveilled Hong Kong 12, Tipped Off PRC Authorities

An Apple Daily report alleges that a Hong Kong government plane surveilled the “Hong Kong 12” during the activists’ attempted escape to Taiwan. They were captured at sea by Chinese authorities and are now being detained in Shenzhen; ten are charged with illegal border crossings, two are charged with organizing the trip. None, so far, have been charged as “separatists,” an accusation leveled at them by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson. “Secessionism” was criminalized in Hong Kong under the new National Security Law, which also gives mainland authorities some jurisdiction over national security cases there. On October 1, protesters marched in Hong Kong to advocate for the 12’s freedom. Apple Daily’s article intimates that the Hong Kong government collaborated with mainland law enforcement to seize the fleeing activists, contradicting the government’s own claim that they learned of the arrests five days after the escape attempt. For CNN, James Griffiths and Eric Cheung report on the unique flight path of the government plane, normally used to conduct airborne surveillance:

But according to open-source flight data, first reported by Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, a Government Flying Services (GFS) aircraft was deployed to eastern Hong Kong, above Po Toi O, at about 4 a.m. on August 23, and stayed in the area for more than four hours.

The movement of the plane — as recorded by FlightAware, an aircraft tracking service — closely matches a timeline of the fugitives’ journey released by the Hong Kong government.

The GFS plane circled the Po Toi O area until 7:30 a.m., when it started flying southeast, the direction the speedboat took to open waters. The Chinese Coast Guard stopped the boat at 9 a.m., less than an hour after the aircraft began making its way back to base.

According to information provided by GFS, the aircraft involved — a Bombardier Challenger 605 — is equipped for search and rescue, airborne surveillance and aerial photography.

Publicly available flight data for the particular plane, B-LVB, shows the August 23 trip was out of the ordinary: it did not fly before 7:30 a.m. any other day between August 18 and October 7, nor did it make any other flights of over three hours during this period. [Source]

Four family members of the detained and four activists protested at the Hong Kong airport, demanding that the government release reconnaissance records and radar data from the GFS flight. At least 12 police surrounded the activists and issued them tickets for violating a coronavirus-related gathering ban on groups of over four people. Pro-government columnist Alex Lo writes critically of the families’ “grandstanding” in the South China Morning Post: “The families may ask for humane treatment of their children, but they are not in any position to demand special treatment.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam denied that the government collaborated with Chinese officials to detain the activists. The Hong Kong Free Press reports on her response to the allegations:

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.” [Source]

The activists are still being held incommunicado in Shenzhen, just 15 minutes from the Hong Kong border. Activists’ family members are worried that the Hong Kong 12 do not have access to legal representation. At The Wall Street Journal, Wenxin Fan and John Lyons report that human rights lawyers hired to defend the Hong Kong 12 have been denied access to the detainees:

When Mr. Wong didn’t come home the day of the escape attempt, his mother feared he had committed suicide. He had long suffered from depression and both his father and uncle had died by suicide, Mrs. Wong said. He had tucked a letter laying out his will and an apology to his family for any stress he had caused into a book for learning the computer coding language Python.

After learning of his arrest, Mrs. Wong lined up a Beijing-based human rights lawyer to defend her son. As the lawyer traveled by high-speed train from central China to visit the jailed protester, plainclothes security agents tailed him and tried to convince him to drop the case, she said. When he arrived at the detention facility in Shenzhen, he was told his services wouldn’t be needed—two lawyers had already been appointed—and Mrs. Wong’s son didn’t want additional help.

It is a story she doesn’t buy.

“I don’t believe my son would not want my help,” Mrs. Wong said in a recent interview. “How would he pick a lawyer if he isn’t allowed on the phone?” [Source]

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