Suffocating the civil society in China and Hong Kong: Fugitive Offenders Ordinance will extradite Hongkongers to China, where rule of law is not protected

In recent months, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam has been pushing for the revision of Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (hereafter FOO). In just one month's time, the proposal has been tabled at Legislative Council for its first and second readings. The government explains such a proposal is a response to extradite a Hong Kong man to Taiwan, who is accused by the authorities there of murdering his girlfriend before fleeing to Hong Kong.

There is no formal extradition agreement between the two places. However, the proposal to extradite fugitives does not cover Taiwan only. Its two recommendations, including to extradite Hong Kong fugitive offenders to any part in China and to give Chief Executive the sole power in deciding whether to extradite, is obvious that such a proposal is not only meant to extradite the above-mentioned suspect, but to make it possible to extradite Hongkongers to China.

 

Thus, this FOO will put Hong Kong people in danger, especially those organizers who support human rights and labour rights in China. When the Jasic Workers' Solidarity Team was arrested in China in August 2018, the state-owned news agency Xinhua Agency categorized a Hong Kong labour NGO “Worker Empowerment” as “foreign force” to trigger the Jasic labour action. It is the first time, a Hong Kong labour organization being accused of such a high-profile political offense. “Worker Empowerment” used to have general cooperation, training programs with Shenzhen's Dagongzhe Centre, to provide labour consultation and education to migrant workers in southern China. When the Chinese Government would accuse such harmless cooperation as foreign force to stir labour action and if extradition between China and Hong Kong is made possible, we can imagine that the Chinese Government will keep coming up with new accusations, to demand their extraditions from Hong Kong.

Under the current FOO, the Legislative Council serves the rights to examine the human rights conditions of the jurisdiction requesting the extradition before the extradition takes place. If the new proposal is to be passed, the Legislative Council would lose its function to object, as the Chief Executive has the final say. If the Legislative Council could not review the human rights conditions in the requesting jurisdictions, how could the media and general public monitor them? The court would only consider if the arrangement complies with the procedure, for examples, if the alleged action is considered as a crime in Hong Kong, if the sentence would be more than 12 months and if there is prima facie evidence, but nothing regarding human rights.

 

The Hong Kong Bar Association pointed out in its statement: when both Hong Kong and Chinese courts hold jurisdiction of a certain case, the current proposal has not spelled out which jurisdiction would have the priority to handle the case. In other words, if a Chinese Court claims to hold jurisdiction of a certain cross-border case, the Hong Kong Government might simply transfer the defendant to PRC, even s/he could be tried in Hong Kong.

 

To eliminate “foreign force” has been a primary goal of the Chinese Government. In 2017, the Laws on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations within the Territory in China came into force. It has been the magic weapon for the Chinese Government to control NGOs in China. They have to comply with the new law and cut off foreign connections. Under this law, Hong Kong-based labour organizations have no chance to register and operate legally in China. In short, through legislation, the Chinese Government is indirectly defining the NGOs' work as illegal.

 

The Chinese Government often charges the law-abiding NGO staff with various offenses, from “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” to “subversion”. The pre-trial detention comes in different patterns as well. Some activists have been detained for months or years, their rights to meet lawyers and families are deprived and nobody knows about their whereabouts. If the proposed FOO is passed, Hong Kong people would be transferred to China and their rights would no longer be protected.

 

The revision of FOO has not only caused anxiety among human rights organizations, but also the business sector. As a result, the Hong Kong Government made a special exemption of 9 economic offenses to pacify the business sector, to ensure that economic criminals would be treated differently. It reflects that in today's Hong Kong, under the so-called One Country Two Systems, capitalists enjoy far more privileges than common people. If Hong Kong and China's legal systems would further merge together, the civil society in both China and Hong Kong would be brought to a dead end.