Hong Kong Watch urges Hong Kong government to rethink amendments to extradition arrangements
Hong Kong Watch urges the Hong Kong government to rethink the proposed amendments to extradition arrangements and to incorporate a proper public consultation before amending the law.
The proposed amendments to the existing legislation, the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance, will mean that Legco scrutiny will no longer be necessary to allow the Hong Kong government to surrender fugitives to jurisdictions where there is no existing formal bilateral extradition agreement.
This will ensure that the Chief Executive will be able to sanction the arrest of anyone in Hong Kong to non-contracting jurisdictions, including notably the People’s Republic of China. Given that Beijing is likely to be the major source of such extradition requests and has the power to exert significant political pressure on the Chief Executive, this measure removes one of the key safeguards against Beijing’s political opponents being extradited for political purposes. The amended law thus is likely to lead to self-censorship and undermine the rights protected by the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The Hong Kong government states that the law does not allow for extradition for political purposes, however the case of Gui Minhai shows that there are not sufficient safeguards in the mainland’s legal system to guarantee that Beijing’s political opponents will not be prosecuted on other charges. In 2015, the bookseller Gui Minhai was abducted while on holiday in Thailand by Chinese state officials. He was subsequently charged in China for “traffic offences”, yet his true crime was clearly selling of books critical of the Chinese government. His case is an example of the way that the new law could be abused to facilitate the extradition of Hong Kong citizens, or foreign nationals, whose political perspectives are critical of the Communist Party. The Chinese courts are currently willing to use the spurious charge of “traffic offences” to justify the abduction, incommunicado detention and imprisonment of a bookseller for years. In this context, it is quite possible that the new extradition law might be used to penalise political opponents based on trumped up charges.
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam claims that the proposal is necessary to bring justice in the recent Taiwan homicide case. We concur with the Progressive Lawyers Group's assessment that this is unnecessary because the Hong Kong government could facilitate this by either seeking Legco approval under the existing law, or amend the law narrowly to allow extradition to Taiwan. In view of the human rights risks posed by the proposed amendments to the legislation, these options would both be preferable.
In view of this, we urge the Hong Kong government to review the amendments, and not make any changes until there has been proper public consultation including a proper consideration of the human rights implications of the change.