HK democracy advocates bring their protest against extradition bill to United States

11-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:53 AM Print This Post

Two of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy advocates have travelled to the United States to seek Washington’s support for scuttling the territory’s controversial extradition bill.

The legislation would clear the city to conduct the transfer of suspects to destinations it now lacks extradition deals with, including Taiwan and mainland China. The bill has stalled in the Legislative Council since being tabled more than a month ago in the face of resistance from the business sector and human rights groups.

Martin Lee Chu-ming, founder of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong, and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, one of the pro-democracy student leaders of the 2014 Occupy movement, were scheduled to speak next Wednesday before the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which monitors Beijing’s actions on human rights and its commitment to the rule of law.

Lee sees the bill passing easily because Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government holds a majority, but is hoping international pressure, combined with increasing street protests, will force legislative leaders to withdraw the proposal.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Hong Kong on April 28 to protest a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China. (AFP)

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Hong Kong on April 28 to protest a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China. (AFP)

“There is precedent for that,” Lee told the South China Morning Post on the sidelines of an event at New York’s Asia Society on Thursday.

Lee was referring to a 2003 campaign in Hong Kong to stop the introduction of a national security law that would have impinged upon freedom of religion, assembly and the press.

That campaign, which eventually won the withdrawal of the legislation, was bolstered significantly by opposition from the US and the administration of then US president George W. Bush which then spurred other nations, including Britain, to object as well.

“So we hope history will repeat itself… On that occasion [in 2003] it started with the US government,” Lee said.

The commission sent a letter to Lee on May 1, thanking him for agreeing to testify at the hearing on “Hong Kong’s Future in the Balance: Eroding Autonomy and Challenges to Human Rights”.

“The US Congress is concerned about the future of US-Hong Kong relations as growing Chinese government interference continues to erode the ‘one country, two systems’ framework established by the 1984 Sino-British Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” the commission wrote.

Fears over the changes to existing extradition law, which critics say Beijing could use to target activists as well as business executives, led to tens of thousands of Hongkongers taking to the streets in recent weeks to show their opposition.

Currently, China has no extradition law with nations including Britain, Canada and the United States. But these three nations, for example, have extradition agreements with Hong Kong, an exception negotiated with Beijing as part of the 1997 handover agreement.

“Suddenly we’re told there’s a loophole [that allows for extradition to mainland China]. It’s not a loophole. it was intended to be that way,” said Lee, who helped to draft the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Law, who was elected the youngest-ever member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council only to be ousted, ostensibly for “improper oath-taking”, said the extradition bill was worrying not only democrats, but also the business community, which had “always been in favour of Beijing”.

For example, Law said, small bribes were often part of the cost of doing business in mainland China. But if a Hong Kong businessperson thought his residence previously offered safety, under the proposed law such bribes might now create the pretext for extradition to mainland China if he ran afoul of Beijing.

“I think the business community is actually more worried than the democrats, because one of the political agendas hidden behind the proposal is to get money back to China, and Hong Kong has always been known as one of the places where people in China get money out,” Law said.

“I think those rich people are actually terrified.”

On Tuesday, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission a US Congressional commission released a report criticising the extradition bill and warned the proposal could create serious national security and economic risks for US citizens.

If passed, the commission said, the bill would increase Hong Kong’s susceptibility to Beijing’s weak legal system and political coercion, leading to further erosion of the city’s autonomy.

“People think that this affects us,” Lee said. “In fact, it affects everyone.”

American and other foreign businesspeople in Hong Kong, he contended, could easily be victimised by any new extradition law because of rampant corruption and the absence of a true rule of law in mainland China.

Imagine the risk, he said, business executives might face if they got into disputes with politically connected Chinese partners.

“The moment you come in [to Hong Kong], there’s danger,” he said.

The commission report raised that specific threat.

“One major concern is that the bill could allow Beijing to pressure the Hong Kong government to extradite US citizens under false pretences,” Ethan Meick, the commission’s security and foreign affairs policy analyst, wrote.



Category: Hong Kong

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