HK’s opposition lawmakers warn of legal action over controversial extradition bill

07-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers on Sunday threatened to take legal action against the administrative wing of their own legislature over its handling of a controversial bill to amend the city’s extradition laws.

The latest front in the battle over the proposed amendment followed moves on Saturday to unseat a rival lawmaker seen by the pro-government camp as slowing down work in the committee scrutinising the bill.

The law change would allow Hong Kong to hand over fugitives to jurisdictions with which it has no extradition deal, including mainland China and Taiwan.

Government officials have stressed the urgency of passing the bill in time to extradite Hongkonger Chan Tong-kai, 20. Chan is wanted in Taiwan for the murder of his girlfriend, but could be released as early as October after he was recently jailed for 29 months on a related money-laundering charge by the High Court.

 (South China Morning Post)

(South China Morning Post)

Fears over the changes to the extradition law, which critics say Beijing could use to target activists, led to tens of thousands of Hongkongers taking to the streets last Sunday to show their opposition.

Pan-democrat lawmakers have also opposed the amendment, slowing the process of choosing a chair for the committee to vet the bill.

In the pro-establishment camp’s sights is veteran pan-democrat James To Kun-sun, who presides over the bills committee. Because of his seniority, To heads the committee until a chair is chosen.

On Saturday, the Legislative Council Secretariat issued a circular that could lead to To’s removal and replacement with the pro-government Abraham Razack a move that sparked anger in the opposition camp.

The bills committee was scheduled to meet on Monday afternoon for the third time, but there was unlikely to be a dramatic showdown because Razack would try to adjourn it to avoid a direct confrontation with the pan-democrats, according to a source.

The opposition camp said those at the secretariat, a non-partisan body led by secretary general Kenneth Chen Wei-on, had been turned into “political goons”, launching what they likened to a “coup d’etat” to help the pro-Beijing bloc push through the bill. “A lawyer’s letter is being drafted, surrounding the issue of misconduct in public office,” lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching said on Sunday, without elaborating.

In a joint statement, the 23 pan-democrats said the secretariat had overstepped its authority by directly sending a written request to lawmakers. The circular concerned a non-binding guideline on To’s removal and whether each of the 62 lawmakers on the bills committee was in favour of it. The pro-government bloc has a majority on the committee.

The opposition camp also said it would not recognise Razack’s role in presiding over the committee and questioned whether the House Committee’s decision on Saturday to issue the non-binding guideline was legal. To said he would preside over Monday’s meeting regardless and had asked the secretariat to withdraw the circular.

“I am without doubt the presiding member and I will certainly go and chair the next meeting,” he said.

But in a letter to legislators on Sunday, Chen said he had acted in accordance with the rule book and that To was not the formal chair of the committee.

“In order to fulfil its duties of supporting the bills committee, the only practicable and feasible way of handling the issue is to send written circulars to all bills committee members,” he said.

To rejected Chen’s argument, saying he had the responsibility and power to continue presiding over Monday’s meeting.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the city’s No 2 official, said he hoped the issue could be sorted out as soon as possible so the work of scrutinising the bill could begin, adding the government was ready to listen to “constructive and feasible” views from the public.

Meanwhile, the government was under pressure to explore alternative proposals for the bill, after prominent law scholar and Basic Law Committee member Albert Chen Hung-yee urged officials to “seriously consider” allowing Hongkongers to stand trial in local courts rather than being sent to the mainland.

Chen’s colleague, leading human rights scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun, said the law should spell out that Hong Kong courts would have more say on rejecting an extradition request, if the requesting jurisdiction did not recognise international human rights agreements.

Another two prerequisites would be for the requesting jurisdiction to guarantee it would provide sufficient protection in its criminal justice system, as well as to allow courts to turn down any requests that contravened the Bill of Rights.

Were his three-pronged proposal to be adopted, it effectively could block rendition requests from the mainland as it has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, unlike Hong Kong.

Chan said his proposals were to ensure the accused would receive a fair trial and basic guarantees such as the right to legal representation after being extradited.



Category: Hong Kong

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