Pro-democracy activists and relatives protested outside the headquarters of the Hong Kong Government Flying Service on Thursday, calling on the authorities for an explanation of flights made by its aircraft on the day that 12 Hong Kong activists were detained by the China Coast Guard as they headed for the democratic island of Taiwan.
Democracy activist Joshua Wong and former pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu told journalists at the protest that they had evidence that the government had sent a fixed-wing aircraft to track the speedboat carrying the 12 activists, who have been held incommunicado in Yantian Detention Center in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen since their detention on Aug. 23.
"Internal flight records of the Government Flying Service provided to us by our sources clearly show that there was a ... police operation, with the fixed-wing aircraft flying a mission from 4.10 a.m. to 8.45 a.m. [on Aug. 23] that was piloted by the police," Wong said at the protest. "This gives the lie to the police claim that they had no prior knowledge of the incident."
"It is highly likely that the police, together with a pilot provided by the security bureau, were part of a cross-border, interdepartmental operation that colluded with the setting of this trap, and the rendition of the 12 Hongkongers to mainland China," Wong said.
The mother of detainee Li Tsz-yin told journalists that this could be one reason that none of the 12 detainees has been allowed to meet with a lawyer.
"Why would they have prevented them from meeting with the lawyers we hired, if it wasn't that there are things they don't want the public to find out?" she said. "I think the Hong Kong authorities colluded with the mainland Chinese authorities to betray the people of Hong Kong."
"I call on them to release our sons and daughters, the 12 detainees, and not to allow any more renditions to China, no more collaboration," she said.
Sources also told Wong that the pilot and other flight crew in the operation hadn't been aware of the nature of the target, a claim former pilot Tam Man-ho was credible.
"The more confidential the operation, the less they will be told," Tam said. "They will just be told they are to fly a mission, and not necessarily its purpose; they will just be told which vessel to track, the target, and nothing else."
"They could have flown the entire mission without knowing what the operation was," he said.
Data obtained from the flight tracking website FlightAware showed that two Hong Kong government aircraft, the fixed-wing plane B-LVB and and the H175 Cheetah helicopter B-LVH, flew around, and to and from the area where the activists were arrested on the morning of Aug. 23.
But the Government Flying Service rejected calls to make its operational data public, government broadcaster RTHK reported, saying it wasn't "usual practice" to do so.
Lam said on Tuesday that the "Hong Kong police had absolutely no role" in the detention of the 12 Hongkongers, and dismissed media reports as "smearing" the government.
Emigration getting popular
Secretary for security Lee said recent media reports were aimed at confusing the public, and that the government had already released all of the information it could.
The public outcry over the treatment of the 12 detainees comes as an opinion poll showed that nearly 44 percent of Hong Kong residents have plans to emigrate or move overseas if the opportunity presented itself.
Of those, 35 percent said they had concrete plans to leave the city in the near future, while 15 percent said they were making preparations.
Nearly 20 percent cited a deteriorating human rights situation and the loss of Hong Kong's promised freedoms of speech, publication and assembly.
More than 17 percent said the city wasn't democratic enough, while citing greater freedom in the destinations of their choice.
Just under 24 percent said they were heading to the U.K., around 11 percent to Australia and 10 percent to Taiwan.
Meanwhile, a survey by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that Hong Kong's rating as a "liveable city" continues to fall, with an average score of 49.6, the lowest since the survey began in 2017.
The study found that "political discontent among the working population" had risen during the anti-extradition protests of 2019.
Immigration consultant Wong Wai-hung said his company had seen the number of immigration enquiries double since the beginning of this year.
"They are in more of a hurry than a year or two ago, but they're not about to leave tomorrow, because the biggest issue is that the details of the U.K.'s BNO passport-holders plan haven't been clarified yet, while the Australian ... permanent residency offer hasn't been clarified either," Wong said.
"A lot of people are adopting a wait-and-see attitude," he said.
Reported by Gigi Lee, Chan Jeon-nam and Tseng Yat-yiu for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.