Pressure mounts for HK to strengthen proposed extradition law

By Alfred Romann

International concern continues to mount around Hong Kong’s new extradition law, a piece of legislation that was born out of a legal loophole that could  still leave a murder unavenged but has grown into a full-blown political controversy complete with the largest protests the city has seen in years.

A proposed amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO) would make it possible to extradite people from Hong Kong to mainland China, Macau or Taiwan. Currently, there is no such mechanism in place. The bill is scheduled for a second reading at the Legislative Council (LegCo) on 12 June and would create a mechanism to transfer fugitives to the 170 jurisdictions with which it has no treaty, including mainland China.

On Thursday, 30 May, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu announced new changes and safeguards added to the proposed bill including further limits to the scope of crimes that fall under an amended FOO.

The concerns are that the new legislation would open the door for Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China.

The changes Lee announced on Thursday include raising the threshold for the FOO for crimes linked to jail terms of at least seven years, up from three.

Canada and the UK

In a rare joint statement, the UK and Canadian governments expressed their concern that Hong Kong’s new extradition law could have a detrimental effect on “rights and freedoms” in Hong Kong or infringe on the One Country, Two Systems principle that is at the heart of the territory’s government.

“We are concerned about the potential effects of these proposals on the large number of UK and Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, on business confidence and on Hong Kong’s international reputation,” the UK’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt and his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland said in a joint statement on Thursday.

“We believe that the Hong Kong government should allow time to give proper consideration of all alternative options and safeguards.”

Europe and Australia have expressed similar concerns.

Earlier this week, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) met with Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu to express concerns about a lack of adequate safeguards in the proposed changes, concerns that have been echoed by the community and legal professionals.

The HKGCC noted that other extradition agreements, such as those that exist with Canada or the UK, are more stringent and include more options for refusal.

“These safeguards are all the more important when the proposed regime is to be applied to all 170 jurisdictions where Hong Kong does not currently have a long term agreement, many of which have a lower level of human rights protection compared to Hong Kong,” said HKGCC CEO Shirley Yuen.

Among other recommendations, the HKGCC wants extradition requests from Mainland China to be considered only if they come from the Central Government.

In a statement, Chairman Aron Harilela said the HKGCC is “pleased that the Government has taken on-board our suggestion to enhance the safeguards on its proposed legislative amendments.”

The political firestorm started in April after the murder of the girlfriend of Hong Kong man Chan Tong-kai in Taiwan. Chan was wanted for the killing in Taiwan but had already fled to Hong Kong, where he was arrested on lesser charges of money laundering linked to the fact that he had stolen his girlfriend’s ATM card. Without an extradition arrangement in place, Chan may never be charged for the murder in Taiwan.