Hong Kong‘s leaders have launched laws to change extradition rules to allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, standing fast against growing opposition to a move that many fear could further erode the city’s legal protections.
According to the laws presented to the Legislative Council on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam would have the right to order the extradition of wanted offenders to China, Macau and Taiwan as well as other countries not covered by Hong Kong’s existing extradition treaties.
The bill was introduced following a case last year when a local man allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend while on holiday in Taiwan, but could not be extradited as Taipei and Hong Kong do not share an extradition agreement.
The bill, however, has become a diplomatic quagmire as Hong Kong and Beijing both consider Taiwan, a self-ruling island, to be part of greater China.
Taiwanese officials have spoken out against the agreement, which some fear could be used to coerce it into acknowledging Beijing’s sovereignty, DPA news agency reported citing the South China Morning Post.
It's clear the assurances given so far by Hong Kong government that political cases won't be pursued are just not believed by reporters, lawyers and business community, who have remained critical of the proposed law
— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) April 3, 2019
Within Hong Kong, the law has raised concerns from the business community and human rights groups.
Former Democratic Party leader Emily Lau said that, even with the promised safeguards, ordinary people in Hong Kong would still find extradition to mainland China unacceptable.
“Many Hong Kong people have no trust or confidence in the Chinese judicial system,” she told the government-funded radio station RTHK. Fair trials were not possible on the mainland, she said.
Hong Kong’s Bar Association took issue with multiple aspects of the revised bill, maintaining that it did not support the bill despite revisions.
“This restriction against any surrender arrangements with the rest of [China], whether under a long-term formal arrangement or case-based arrangements, is not a ‘loophole,’ as repeatedly, and in our view, misleadingly, asserted by the senior government officials on various occasions and now in the LegCo Brief,” a statement by the body read.
Over the weekend, thousands took to the streets to protest the laws, joining an unusually broad chorus of concern from international business elites to rights’ groups and even some pro-establishment figures.
But Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Lam had said her government would make no further amendments before introducing the laws to the city’s parliament.
Just now: Replying to lawmaker @ChuHoiDick, Chief Exec. Carrie Lam says it is "nonsense" to suggest #HongKong does not have an independent judiciary, as she defends the #China extradition law plan. Democrats shout out, as lawmaker Ted Hui walks out. pic.twitter.com/uU231ru28v
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) April 3, 2019
Small groups of protesters, supporting the government’s bill, briefly faced off against opponents outside the Council but later dispersed without incident.
Opponents of the changes fear further erosion of freedoms and legal protections in the free-wheeling financial hub – rights which were guaranteed under the city’s handover from British colonial rule to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.