The government’s proposed amendment to Hong Kong’s extradition law has been met with a fresh round of opposition as the consultation period drew to a close on Monday.
In a statement, the city’s professional body of barristers accused the government of “jumping the gun” with the proposal and failing to fully consult the public. The body also recommended two alternatives – either the city should make an extradition agreement with Taiwan, or amend the law so that people who commit homicide overseas could be tried in Hong Kong.
The government proposal was spurred by the case of Poon Hiu-wing, a pregnant 20-year-old Hong Kong woman who was killed during a trip to Taiwan last February. Hong Kong authorities arrested the woman’s boyfriend Chan Tong-kai but were unable to charge him with murder in local courts. He is currently in custody and charged with theft.
Hong Kong’s proposal, which works on a case-by-case basis, would allow the city to handle extradition requests from jurisdictions where there are no pre-existing agreements. Lawmakers have questioned whether the system would mean Hongkongers could be sent to the mainland over political crimes, but Secretary for Security John Lee has denied the possibility.
Lee had previously said the amendment did not require a public consultation. However, the Security Bureau later admitted that it was collecting the public’s opinion for 20 days up until March 4.
The Hong Kong Bar Association said on Monday that the proposal could have “significant and wide-ranging effects” that could undermine Hong Kong’s reputation as a free and safe city with the rule of law.
Rejecting the government’s line that there is a “loophole” in the law, the HKBA said that it was no accident that Hong Kong has had no extradition agreement with mainland China since 1997.
“If circumstances have changed since then and the objections to [excluding China] have gone, then the HKSAR Government needs to say why things have changed,” the statement read.
“If there have indeed been significant changes such that the [Hong Kong government] now has confidence in the criminal justice system in those other parts of China, then logic would suggest that comprehensive surrender and assistance agreements should be negotiated, and not ad hoc agreements and the Legislative Council should continue to have its say.”
If ad hoc agreements were to be made, they should be made with Taiwan exclusively, the HKBA added.
The HKBA also suggested amending the Offences Against the Person Ordinance and the Criminal Jurisdiction Ordinance to cover situations where Hong Kong permanent residents commit homicide outside the city, or where the victim of such a homicide is a Hong Kong permanent resident.
Petitions and protests
Aside from barristers, the Scholars’ Alliance for Academic Freedom – along with 21 scholars – have started a petition asking the higher-education sector to oppose the amendment.
The petition called for the amendment to be withdrawn: “Given the notoriety of the legal system on the mainland, the Hong Kong government’s amendments will massively weaken the protection of human rights by local laws,” the document read.
The pro-democracy camp and the Civil Human Rights Front also held a protest on Sunday outside Mong Kok police station. The coalition included lawmakers such as Claudia Mo, Alvin Yeung and activists such as “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Jimmy Sham.
They said they planned to host two more protests: marching to the China Liaison Office on Sunday, and a march from Wan Chai to the government headquarters on March 31.
On Monday, around 20 pro-establishment demonstrators voiced their support for the amendment outside the government headquarters in Admiralty.
The demonstrators, who were from Politihk Social Strategic, Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation and other pro-Beijing groups, said that Hong Kong should not become a safe haven for criminals and that China’s criminal justice system has already received international recognition.