Govt plan to amend extradition laws gets even more complicated

March 08, 2019 16:42
The proposed amendments have quickly ignited a firestorm of controversy because they also apply to the mainland,  raising fears about the possibility that  people in Hong Kong may also be extradited across the border. Photo: Bloomberg

The Hong Kong government has proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance to allow a Hong Kong man suspected of murdering his Hong Kong girlfriend in Taiwan to be extradited to the island to stand trial.

It is understood that the SAR government has actually been staying in touch with Taiwanese law enforcement officials over the case.

In December last year, the Shilin District Prosecutors Office in Taipei officially issued an arrest warrant against Chan Tong-kai, the murder suspect.

Before that, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice had already made two requests to Hong Kong for mutual legal assistance on criminal matters, in March and April last year.

Then in December, the ministry once again reiterated its request through the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) under the Executive Yuan.

In response, the Security Bureau put forward a proposal to amend relevant ordinances, under which the SAR administration will, on a signed order from the chief executive, adopt a one-off, case-based approach to send fugitives in our city to all jurisdictions with which Hong Kong hasn’t had any long-term surrender arrangements.

The SAR administration is understood to have already notified the Taiwanese authorities of the contents of the amendments, but hasn’t received any formal reply from Taipei so far.

Yet the amendments proposed by the Security Bureau have quickly ignited a firestorm of controversy because they also apply to the mainland, raising concerns about the future possibility of people in Hong Kong being extradited across the border not only among the pan-democrats but also the Liberal Party representing the local business sector.

On Wednesday, four pan-dems went to Taiwan to meet with officials of the MAC and members of various political parties on the island to seek their views on the proposed amendments.

Meanwhile, the US Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau Kurt Tong also voiced his views about the legislative initiative.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong even expressed “serious reservations” about the proposed amendments this week.

All these concerns further compound the matter.

Then it was the MAC’s turn to weigh in on the issue. In a statement on Wednesday, the MAC urged the SAR government to seriously consider concluding an agreement on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters with Taiwan that excludes the mainland so as to get to the root of the problem and ensure that justice is served.

Judging from the current situation, unless the Security Bureau is willing to make concessions, it would be difficult to tell how Taipei would react once the proposed amendments are passed by Legislative Council.

Under normal circumstances, the Taiwanese authorities who have requested the Hong Kong government to surrender the fugitive would certainly love to see the suspect brought to justice as soon as possible.

But since the proposed amendments involve politics and even cross-strait relations, the issue is no longer just a purely legal matter.

So far Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah has only publicly responded to the matter once, and has yet to come up with any convincing argument to rebut public doubts over whether the proposed amendments would “open the backdoor” of the Basic Law.

In contrast, lawmakers from the legal sector and the Hong Kong Bar Association have been criticizing the government over the matter.

Given that, it appears the government is now in a position of weakness amid this raging controversy.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 7

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.