Hong Kong and Beijing have agreed on a faster notification system to let the city’s authorities know when residents are criminally detained across the border.
As part of the new deal, both sides will receive notification within 30 days for cases involving terrorist activities or suspected offences endangering national security.
The system has not been reviewed since it was set up in 2001. Both sides are committed to informing each other within seven days when someone has been detained for possible crimes, if they are prosecuted or confirmed dead of unnatural causes. Both sides should be notified within 14 working days for serious and complicated criminal cases. The arrangement will take effect on February 1 next year.
Both sides can make an enquiry and the other should respond within 30 working days after receipt.
Secretary for Security John Lee signed the agreement with Sun Lijun, director of the Office of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Affairs of the Ministry of Public Security. It was witnessed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi.
The new talks between Hong Kong and the mainland come after the return of missing bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who went missing from Shenzhen and returned to Hong Kong last year to reveal details of his “kidnapping” and detention by a Chinese special unit. The Hong Kong government only received notification about his detention on the mainland months after he was detained.
Lee declined to answer questions from reporters asking whether the new mechanism was related to Lam’s case.
Cross-border kidnapping cases
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said the 30-day period was too long.
“Many things can happen in 30 days – say forced confession,” he said.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To said the review should have been completed a long time ago, but it is still unclear whether the mechanism is able to deal with suspected incidents of cross-border kidnapping by Chinese agents, such as in the cases of bookseller Lee Bo and businessman Xiao Jianhua.
Lam and Lee were two of the five booksellers at Causeway Bay Books who went missing before reappearing on the mainland “confessing” to illegally delivering banned books into the mainland.
To also said he was unsure if the Communist Party’s disciplinary agencies would notify Hong Kong under the new mechanism if they detained a Hong Kong resident.
“Did any public security or national security agency claim that they arrested Lee Bo? If he was taken by an agency outside the scope of the mechanism, then we would not even know about the case,” he said.
7-day period too long
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Gary Chan said the seven-day notification period should be shortened.
“Seven days is still a bit too long for us. If a Hong Kong resident was detained in Guangdong Province or near Shenzhen, the notification should come in less than seven days,” he said.
But he said it was an increase in transparency as Hong Kong authorities will now be notified in cases relating to terrorist activities or suspected offences endangering national security.
Asked if the 30-day notification period was too long, he said: “Maybe these cases are more complicated than normal criminal cases and require more time to gather evidence.”
Chan also called for a yearly review.
Under the existing notification mechanism, Hong Kong authorities should be notified by their Guangdong counterparts within 14 days when a Hongkonger is detained on the mainland, and vice versa. As at November 30, 2017, 15,179 notifications were submitted to Hong Kong by mainland authorities.
The government said the content of notifications will now be standardised to include the suspected offence, the relevant legal basis, the location where the suspect is being held, and the officer in charge.
All agencies which are authorised by mainland laws to detain Hong Kong residents are included in the notification mechanism. The Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong was a new addition to the mechanism.