Business chamber wants more safeguards in extradition bill

May 28, 2019 15:25
HKGCC chairman Aron Harilela (2nd left) and Secretary for Security John Lee (2nd right) during their meeting on Monday. Photo: HKEJ

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) has sought more safeguards in the government's proposal to amend the extradition laws even as it expressed support to the "underlying principle" of the controversial bill.

The call came after the group met with Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu on Monday to discuss the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Since the law changes would no doubt have “significant and far-reaching implications” to Hong Kong’s criminal justice system, which is a vital contributing factor to the city's reputation as an international city, “a comprehensive safeguards mechanism must also be included in the bill”, the HKGCC said in a statement.

Aron Harilela, chairman of the business group, told media that the chamber made three suggestions at the meeting, including raising the threshold to cover only extraditable offences punishable with a jail sentence of seven or more years.

Also, the group proposed that extradition requests to the mainland would only be considered if they came from the central government but not provincial governments, and that the Hong Kong administration and courts have to take humanitarian and human rights factors into consideration when processing extradition applications.

The chamber said in the statement it feels that existing safeguards in the fugitives ordinance “do not go far enough”, though such safeguards should continue to apply.

It also noted that extradition agreements with other jurisdictions such as Canada and the United Kingdom “contain much longer lists of grounds, some mandatory and others discretionary, for potential refusal”.

As to whether the HKGCC will back the government bill, Harilela said discussions with the government are still needed.

The group said it has to express its views, adding that it expects to receive positive responses from the authorities.

Meanwhile, pan-democratic lawmakers said some of the foreign envoys in Hong Kong expressed their concerns over the bill at a luncheon hosted by Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen on Monday.

Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang quoted some of the attending consuls as saying that they just see limited protection that can be provided by the local court and that it is almost impossible for the chief executive not to follow the central authorities’ order.

But Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said some envoys clearly supported the government bill, although she did not disclose their names.

Legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a member of the Executive Council and chair of the New People's Party, acknowledged that some of the diplomats expressed concerns about the bill at the luncheon but none of them opposed it outright.

Meanwhile, a challenge by pro-democracy lawmakers to engage Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in a televised debate over the extradition bill has been implicitly declined.

The pan-democrats threw the challenge three days after Legco's House Committee decided through a vote to take the bill straight to the full council instead of having the Bills Committee deliberate on the proposal first.

The resumption of the second reading of the bill, this time by the entire Legco, has been scheduled for June 12.

In inviting Lam to join a TV debate before June 9, when the Civil Human Rights Front will stage a mass protest against the bill, the pan-democrats said the chief executive has a responsibility to explain in detail to the general public and the international community the grounds for seeking to amend the extradition laws.

They insisted that Lam should be the one to join the debate and any surrogate will not be accepted.

In response to the invitation, the Chief Executive's Office did not categorically state whether or not it will accept the invitation, but said if legislators wish to engage in a debate over the extradition bill, the Legco is the most suitable venue for that.

The office said Legco’s Panel on Security is scheduled to hold a special meeting in which its members will discuss the bill as well as put forward their questions and suggestions.

Meanwhile, administration officials will do their best to co-operate and offer explanations to different sectors of the community and overseas individuals in various ways, it added.

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