Hong Kong | Proposed extradition law sparking concerns even after backpedal

Protesters raise placards and flags against an extradition law during a march toward the government headquarters in Hong Kong yesterday

Business and human rights groups are expressing concern over proposed changes to Hong Kong’s extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China where they could be subject to torture and unfair prosecution.

They say the move would harm the Asian financial hub’s attractiveness to international business.

Hong Kong currently limits such extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing extradition agreements or to others on an individual basis under a law passed before the semi-autonomous territory’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. China was excluded because of concerns over its poor record on legal independence and human rights.

However, changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance would expand the scope for the transfer of criminal suspects to China and remove the legislature’s right to scrutinize individual extradition decisions filed by Hong Kong’s chief executive.

“These amendments would heighten the risk for human rights activists and others critical of China being extradited to the mainland for trial on fabricated charges,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a news release yesterday.

“The amendments would tarnish Hong Kong’s reputation for the rule of law, and should be scrapped,” Richardson said, adding the legal changes would put Hong Kong people “at risk of torture and unfair trials.”

Last week, Hong Kong scaled back the proposed law amid concerns by opposition lawmakers and Western governments that the legislation would further erode the city’s autonomy.

The government agreed to remove nine categories including bankruptcy, securities and futures, and intellectual property from the proposed extradition law, Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee said. The proposed law would still include offenses like murder, polygamy and robbery that would be eligible for at least a three-year jail sentence under Hong Kong law.

Further concerns have been outlined in a letter sent to Chief Executive Carrie Lam authored by Human Rights along with the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor and the local branch of Amnesty International.

The groups warned that fear of extradition to China — which routinely uses trumped-up charges of tax evasion or other economic crimes to punish political critics — could stifle civil society and freedom of speech in Hong Kong, where civil liberties are already under assault from pro-Beijing groups. In recent years, several people connected with a Hong Kong publishing house that produced unflattering books on mainland Chinese leaders have appeared in Chinese police custody after apparently being abducted, along with a prominent business person wanted on the mainland.

Unlike China, Hong Kong is subject to the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as “customary international law,” which “prohibit returning people to places where there is a real risk of torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials, and other serious human rights violations,” the letter said.

Separately, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong issued a letter saying its member “continue to have serious concerns” about the proposed changes, saying they would “reduce the appeal of Hong Kong to international companies considering Hong Kong as a base for regional operations.”

“Hong Kong’s international reputation for the rule of law is its priceless treasure,” said the letter. DB/Agencies

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