Hong Kong scaled back a proposed extradition law amid concerns by opposition lawmakers and Western governments that the legislation could put people at risk of being sent to China and further erode the territory’s autonomy.
The government would remove nine categories, including bankruptcy, securities and futures, and intellectual property, from the proposed extradition law, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee (李家超) told reporters on Tuesday.
The proposed law would still include offenses such as murder, polygamy and robbery that would be eligible for at least a three-year jail sentence under Hong Kong law.
The proposed law would allow for easier transfer of fugitives to Taiwan, Macau, China or any jurisdiction with which Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement.
It was spurred by the high-profile murder last year of a Hong Kong resident while she was vacationing in Taiwan with her boyfriend, who Taiwanese authorities tried to prosecute for her death.
The man, who subsequently returned to Hong Kong, has not been sent back to Taiwan to face charges as Hong Kong’s fugitive law does not apply there, Hong Kong authorities have said.
“The purpose of the amendment is to deal with a murder case in Taiwan and to fill in the system’s deficiencies, so as to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a hiding place for criminals and have criminals receive legal sanctions,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), who has defended the law, said on Tuesday.
The Hong Kong government could not ignore the Taiwanese case, Lam said, adding that the huge amount of work is “driven by empathy and sympathy.”
Although officials would not submit the amended law until Wednesday next week, it has already stoked fears that it could make Hong Kong more susceptible to Beijing’s political demands — and raised questions about whether people extradited to Hong Kong would face a greater risk of being handed over to China.
A delegation of US politicians to Hong Kong earlier this month highlighted the proposed law as a major challenge to the “one country, two systems” principle under which Hong Kong was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.
Their report also cited the disqualification of lawmakers from the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the refusal to renew a visa for a Financial Times editor last year as contributing to concerns about Hong Kong’s sovereignty, as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) government in Beijing expands its campaign of influence in the territory.
The US last week said that Hong Kong maintains a sufficient — although diminished — degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” model to justify continued special treatment, a US consulate spokesperson said in Hong Kong on Friday last week.
“This passage of the rendition-extradition mechanism will be like a Sword of Damocles hanging over Hong Kong,” said Willy Lam (林和立), a political analyst at the Chinese University in Hong Kong.
“It is highly conceivable that the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] leadership might place a demand on Carrie Lam to extradite political prisoners or prisoners of conscience deemed to be ‘criminals’ under the PRC [People’s Republic of China] legal system,” he said.
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