‘The last fight for HK’: activists gear up over extradition law

08-Jun-2019 Intellasia | The Guardian | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Fears controversial bill, which has its second reading next week, will allow China to target political enemies with impunity

It has been called “the nail in Hong Kong’s coffin”, a bill that activists say will “legitimise Chinese abduction” from the city. But the city’s legislators are pushing ahead with the controversial extradition law that will give mainland China the right to request the transfer of alleged criminals.

Opponents have geared up for a fight, with a rally on Sunday expected to draw up to half a million people onto the city’s streets. The demonstration is supported by human rights and legal groups and the leaders of Hong Kong’s tenuous grip on democracy.

They fear the law, which will have its second reading before the legislature next week, will be used by Beijing to target its political enemies. It has prompted despair from many, who worry it heralds the effective end of the city’s independence from China.

 (South China Morning Post)

(South China Morning Post)

In its current form, the legislation would allow for case-by-case extraditions to mainland China and eliminate some oversight roles of the chief executive’s cabinet and the city’s legislative body. The legislature is seeking to pass it before the summer break in July.

“All they need is a witness statement saying you committed some crime 20 years ago,” says Martin Lee QC, a barrister, former legislator and leading pro-democracy figure. “That is enough, and then you’ll be tried according to Chinese law in a Chinese court. And who can trust that system?”

Critics have accused the Hong Kong administration, led by Carrie Lam, of being “Beijing’s puppet”. But Lam’s administration claims the bill closes a legal loophole. It says the law and the rush to pass it is justified because of the case of a Taiwanese man wanted for the murder of his girlfriend.

Eroding automony

Hong Kong’s independent legal system was protected under the laws governing the territory’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago and is seen by the financial hub’s business and diplomatic communities as its strongest remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing.

But the city’s independence which is supposedly guaranteed until 2047 has been slowly eroding, particularly since Xi Jinping took over as leader of the Communist Party in 2012.

Last year, six members of the Pan Democratic party were expelled from parliament and pro-democracy candidates were disqualified from by-elections. Leaders and organisers of the 2014 pro-democracy protests that occupied parts of the city for almost three months have been jailed.

These watershed moments, plus attempts to bring in national security laws, have created a citizenry hostile to any further encroachments from the mainland. The extradition bill appears to be the last straw. In Hong Kong’s parliament disagreements over the issue have led to literal blows.

‘The little boat is sinking’

Critics say the law heralds the end of the “one country, two systems” policy, under which Hong Kong has prospered as an international business and finance hub.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong has expressed “serious reservations”, saying such measures “would undermine perceptions of Hong Kong as a safe and secure haven for international business operations.”

Observers also worry about politically motivated arrests of foreigners. Following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada, two Canadians were quickly detained in China.

In a joint statement, the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said they were worried about the potential effect of the proposals on the “large number of UK and Canadian citizens in Hong Kong”.

The former British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, has warned that the law would be the “worst thing” to happen in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover. The law would “remove the firewall between Hong Kong’s rule of law and the idea of law which prevails in communist China” Patten said in video commentary posted online on Thursday. “An idea of law where there aren’t any independent courts, where the courts and the security services and the party’s rule, which are sometimes pretty obscure, are rolled all together,” he said, referring to China’s ruling Communist party.

Ray Wong, an independence activist now living in Berlin, this week said it was “the nail in Hong Kong’s coffin.”

“Because if this law is passed the legal system in Hong Kong will be destroyed. Hong Kong will be just another city in China,” he said.

Claudia Mo, legislator and member of the Pan Democratic party, agrees: “They are trying to integrate Hong Kong so much into the mainland to the point that Hong Kong is to be disappeared,” she says. “The little boat of Hong Kong is sinking fast.”

China’s history of targeting dissidents on unrelated charges is well documented. In 2015, five booksellers who published salacious fictional material about China’s leaders from Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay disappeared from their homes only for some to reappear in mainland China confessing to non-political crimes like 13-year-old traffic offences.

In 2008, journalist Cheong Ching was released after more than 1,000 days in jail for spying, in what he believes was retribution for writing an article critical of the Chinese Communist party.

Ching says had they admitted the article was the motivation, there would have been an “uproar”.

“[So] when the Hong Kong government says they aren’t going to send political prisoners to China, the problem is if China is making a request it will never be on political grounds.”

Lee, who has been referred to as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy”, is an internationally recognised campaigner for the political freedom the city was promised after 1997.

He predicts many businesses who have based themselves inside Hong Kong’s protective borders will pack up and go.

“How can you do business in China by observing all the laws in China? There are too many restrictions, so you cut corners and pay bribes,” he says.

But Pro-Beijing government members are resolute, and accuse the opposition of fear-mongering.

Regina Ip, a legislator and cabinet member, and a former secretary of security, says the bill is intended to fight crime across borders, and that mainland China is Hong Kong’s most important crime-fighting partner because of high cross-border traffic by offenders.

Ip has accused opponents of spreading “lies and falsehoods” about the new law and has dismissed concerns Beijing would abuse the system.

“We’re not facing a situation where any ordinary Hong Kong person, because of some past dispute in mainland China, can be whisked across the border,” she says.

“All the human rights guarantees are there.”

Ip is adamant that the international outcry and the protest on Sunday no matter how big will have no impact. “If you cave in because of mass protest, that will encourage people to organise more protests on all sorts of China-sensitive issues,” she says.

But opponents of the bill also believe losing the battle is not an option. “This is now I think the last fight for Hong Kong,” says Lee.




Category: Hong Kong

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