The government is facing more questions over its plan to amend the extradition law, with opposition parties and civic groups saying they fear the proposed new rules on transfer of fugitives could be misused by Beijing to victimize political dissidents.
The law that will make extradition or surrender of Hongkongers involved in crimes that took place in other jurisdictions easier may see its scope expanded, putting activists at risk, the groups said.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, several political parties, including the Civic Party, the Labour Party and People Power, and some civic groups expressed concern about the revision of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Under amended rules, Hong Kong could find itself unable to resist any Beijing request in the future for extradition of people, no matter whether they are Hongkongers, Macanese, or Taiwanese as long as they are in Hong Kong, the groups said.
The existing ordinance does not permit Hong Kong to extradite anyone to China and Taiwan and other jurisdictions that don’t have an agreement in place with Hong Kong on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.
Authorities are now seeking to make changes to the law, as they grapple with the case of a Hong Kong youth who is being sought by Taiwan prosecutors for an alleged murder on the island about a year ago.
To plug loopholes in the law, the bureau has proposed revision of the ordinance to allow the government, on a signed order from the Chief Executive, to adopt a one-off, case-based approach to hand over fugitives or offer legal assistance to all jurisdictions with which Hong Kong does not have an agreement.
The government hopes the proposal can be passed before the legislature takes its annual summer recess in July.
During the Chief Executive’s Question Time in the Legislative Council on Wednesday, a lawmaker asked Hong Kong’s top leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor if amending the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance would mean a back door is opened under the “one country, two systems” principle, and if Beijing has any request of extradition, whether Hong Kong will dare to decline such request.
In her reply, Lam said she hopes the society and lawmakers will look at proposed changes without prejudice or making any untoward assumptions.
Lam stressed that under the proposed new law, extraditions will only be handled on a case-by-case basis and that the chief executive’s role will be merely to initiate a process.
In their statement, the opposition parties and civic groups noted that it is a well-known fact that Beijing tends to accuse people of committing economic crimes while its true intent is to pursue political prosecution.
As such, they worry that, after the ordinance amendment, Hongkongers, Macanese and Taiwanese living or passing by Hong Kong may end up being extradited to the mainland and possibly even face the death penalty once they are accused of violating Chinese laws.
Slamming the Security Bureau for trying to take advantage of the Taiwan murder case to open a passage in Hong Kong’s judicial system for the purpose of catering to Beijing, they urged the government to lift the restriction on extradition only for Taiwan but not for mainland China.
In an newspaper article, Johannes Chan Man-mun, a professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong, wrote that the reason why some countries had been willing to extend an extradition agreement was because Hong Kong had been insisting, before the 1997 handover, that there is no arrangement of extradition or surrender of fugitive offenders between the territory and China, based on the “one country, two systems” principle.
Now, if the ordinance is amended, those countries may re-examine the existing agreements they have with Hong Kong, Chan said.
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