Hong Kong’s chief executive turned down a US request to surrender a fugitive “at the behest” of the central government last year, the US Department of State’s latest report on Hong Kong has revealed. The report said it was the first time the city has refused a US extradition request since the Handover in 1997.
The request was turned down in October 2017, and Hong Kong released the detainee into central government custody on the basis that the central government was pursuing a separate criminal action.
“The Central Government has provided no information as to the disposition of its own case against the individual,” the report said.
The bilateral agreement between the US and Hong Kong which took effect in 1998 “permits Hong Kong to refuse extradition if the PRC (not the Government of Hong Kong) has an interest relating to defense, foreign affairs, or essential public interest or policy.” China has no extradition treaty with the US.
According to a document shown in a report by i-Cable news, a case of failed extradition negotiation was mentioned at a bail hearing of former Hong Kong home secretary Patrick Ho, who was arrested in New York.
The US prosecution said a hacker named Iat Hong – a Macau resident – was arrested in Hong Kong December in 2016. Hong, along with two others, allegedly hacked into two prominent New York-based law firms, gaining almost US$3 million (HK$23.5 million) in illegal profits.
US prosecutors said they pursued a “lengthy, cumbersome” extradition application. But the application was denied in October.
“After nearly 10 months of extradition proceedings in Hong Kong, the [US] government’s extradition application was denied,” the prosecutors said. “Hong thus has not been – and it appears never will be – extradited.”
A government spokesperson said in response: “The Hong Kong government handles the surrender of fugitive offenders in accordance with Hong Kong law.”
Lawmaker Regina Ip, a former secretary for secretary, said she believed the Hong Kong government was acting in accordance with the bilateral agreement.
The annual report is issued in accordance with America’s Hong Kong Policy Act, which treats Hong Kong as a separate entity from China as long as it remains sufficiently autonomous.
The report stated that Hong Kong still generally maintains a high degree of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework in most areas, making it more than sufficient to justify continued special treatment.
However, the report also said that certain actions by the central government between last September and April were inconsistent with China’s commitment in the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – to allow the city to exercise a high degree of autonomy.
It said central government authorities emphasised that the Hong Kong Basic Law is subordinate to the Mainland Constitution, and issued public statements that “diluted the concept of ‘high degree of autonomy’ and the freedoms contemplated in the Basic Law.”
“For example, in November 2017, Chair of the Basic Law Committee Li Fei said that the Central Government ‘jointly administers’ Hong Kong, and that the Central Government will decide policy for Hong Kong in ‘some important matters’ while ‘more local matters are dealt with by local authorities,’ thereby blurring distinctions made clear in the Basic Law,” it said.
“During this reporting period, the political activities and statements of the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong continued to exceed the range of involvement that appears to be contemplated in Article 22 of the Basic Law.”
Article 22 stipulates that “no department of the Central People’s Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.”
The report mentioned that Demosisto’s Agnes Chow was barring from running in the March by-election because her political party advocated “democratic self-determination” for Hong Kong, whilst activists Ventus Lau and James Chan were barred for their prior advocacy of Hong Kong independence.
Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s only representative in the standing committee of the Chinese legislature, previously said criticism of the Communist Party by Hong Kong candidates “may not be in line with the Constitution.” The report said his statement was widely criticised in political circles.
The report also quoted the UK as saying that the denial of entry of British human rights activist Benedict Rogers was instigated by Beijing.
The report said Hong Kong has yet to enact laws that would improve the identification of high-risk travelers and fully implement recommendations in United Nations Security Council resolutions on counter-terrorism.
The report also said: “During this reporting period, some U.S.-based non-governmental organisation employees have reported being under surveillance by unidentified persons, presumed to be Mainland agents.”
The Hong Kong government issued its standard statement in response to the document.
“Since the return to the Motherland, the HKSAR has been exercising a high degree of autonomy and ‘Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong’ in strict accordance with the Basic Law. This demonstrates the full and successful implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, which has been widely recognised by the international community.
“Foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of the HKSAR.”