No guarantee of fair trial in HK extradition bill lawmakers told, as officials also admit other safeguards will be left out

01-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The guarantee of a fair trial or any other safeguards will not be written into the controversial Hong Kong extradition bill, top government officials told lawmakers on Friday.

Instead there will only be a minimum amount of protection for those wanted abroad, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration proposing “top-up protections” depending on the case.

Officials, who were responding to calls from the pro-democracy camp to spell out more safeguards in the legislation, say the approach is designed to give the government greater flexibility when dealing with different jurisdictions.

If passed, the bill will allow the transfer of fugitives on a case-by-case basis with jurisdictions the city does not have an extradition deal with, including Macau, mainland China and Taiwan.

In a move to secure support from local business communities, the government announced on Thursday that it would limit the scope of extraditable offences, accept requests only from the highest judicial authorities, and allow more safeguards in future ad hoc extradition documents, such as insisting on open trials.

But in the Legislative Council’s security panel meeting on Friday, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the extra safeguards could not be written into the bill, which is scheduled for a second reading on June 12, before it is put to a vote.

“In handling special rendition requests from elsewhere, the government could draw from a non-exhaustive list of safeguards,” Cheng said.

“That creates flexibility and the government could top-up protections, depending on condition of the requesting jurisdiction and the outstanding case.”

Lee said the government’s proposal was only to provide a “minimum guarantee” of protection to the accused wanted abroad.

He was referring to section 3A of the amendment bill, which stated the government could “further limit the circumstances in which the person may be surrendered”.

Lee said there were at least four fugitives who could not be prosecuted because of the lack of an agreement, which justified the rule change.

The prospect of Hongkongers being sent across the border for trial is causing particular concern because of distrust in the mainland’s legal system, and lack of human rights guarantees.

However, officials have stressed the urgency of passing the bill to allow the transfer of Hongkonger Chan Tong-kai, 20 who is wanted in Taiwan for the killing of his girlfriend.

Chan is behind bars in Hong Kong after being found guilty on related money-laundering charges, but could be released by October, when he would be free to leave the city.

But the two ministers and Lam have failed to clarify which body to raise the extradition request would be deemed acceptable to Hong Kong, should Taiwan want the transfer of Chan.

Speaking after a women’s forum, Lam said her administration would discuss the matter with Taiwan authorities.

“We would ask for the request to come from a very senior level, normally it would have to be at the central government level, rather than from a provincial government,” Lam said.

“How it would actually work out with Taiwan authorities, we cannot say at the moment.”

In the past, Britain has worked with Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Interior, on extradition requests, because it views it legally as a territory.

While the bill continues to raise concerns internationally, with Britain and Canada issuing a rare joint statement warning against its negative impact on rights and freedoms, Lam said the worries were rooted in a lack of understanding of the proposal.

She added that the government had already listened to various views in proposing the latest revision of the bill, and called for a rational approach when it is scrutinised next month.

But the pro-democracy camp remain unconvinced by the latest concessions in the bill, and said there would be little the government could do if the requesting jurisdiction failed to fulfil the guarantee of providing a fair trial.

They also attacked the government for favouring the concerns of business.

“How many more people should take to the street on June 9, before government would even consider shelving the bill?” said democrat James To Kun-sun, referring to a planned protest at which organisers expect a massive turnout.

Senior Counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an adviser to Lam, also found the latest concessions unfortunate.

“This is the political reality, the government had to do this to gain the support of the business sector and if this one-size-fits-all application is what it takes, then this compromise is worth it if it can provide safeguards and get the bill passed,” he said.

The convenor of the Progressive Lawyers Group, Billy Li On-yin, said the watered-down version of the legislation was unacceptable, and did little to ease public concerns over the bill.

“The maximum punishment for bribery is seven years, which is also the threshold for offenders to be extradited,” Li said.


Category: Hong Kong

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