The government of Hong Kong is considering ending the visa upon arrival facility offered to Indian passport holders. It is reported that a pro-Beijing politician in Hong Kong is lobbying the administration to end the scheme, against which the Indian business community in Hong Kong has expressed shock and concern. The Consulate General of India in Hong Kong is also reportedly lobbying the Hong Kong administration to prevent the visa upon arrival scheme for Indians from ending.

There is no doubt that if the existing visa upon arrival facility is scrapped for Indian passport holders, it will cause hardships to hundreds of thousands of Indians who visit the territory for business and leisure. India ranks sixth in billionaire numbers in the world and is home to more millionaires than Switzerland. That this number is increasing annually means visa restrictions upon Indians could have an adverse impact upon the territory’s economy.

Photo: HKFP.

The main reason cited by those lobbying for an end to the visa upon arrival scheme for Indians is an increase in the number of Indians entering the territory with intent to make a refugee claim upon arrival. It is true that there are persons, who, upon arrival in Hong Kong, have misused the “torture claim” to seek refugee status. But such claims are destined to fail – unfortunately, the Hong Kong system currently takes an unreasonable time to decide on these claims. And, paradoxically, India is itself home to 2 million refugees from various countries, including China.

Widespread torture

The strongest ground for a person to make a refugee claim in Hong Kong is the risk of torture in their home country. And, while there are persons who have misused the claim, it merits to be categorically stated: the practice of torture in India is endemic and widespread. The Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and its sister concern, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), have documented over 600 cases of torture in India during the past ten years.

Torture is not a crime in India. India’s justice institutions – more specifically, the police, prosecution, and the judiciary – are incapable of ending the practice of torture; they, in fact, contribute to its prevalence. Police officers, judges, lawyers, prosecutors, politicians, and a substantially large section of the Indian public believe that torture is a legitimate tool for crime investigation. This belief and its terrible ramifications expose India’s justice process as underdeveloped and primitive.

Torture is committed with impunity in India. Due to this, politicians in power use police torture, or the threat of it, as a tool to silence political opposition. The incumbent government, and previous governments have all used the Indian police to silence political opposition. When torture is committed with impunity, and with political blessing, it is only natural that the police misuse the opportunity. This has made the Indian police one of the most corrupt government establishments.

Extortion and corruption

Today, Indian police behave like the British-Indian police that once terrorised Hong Kong. Indian police openly engage in extortion and myriad forms of corruption. Politicians misuse the police, the impunity officers enjoy, and the several openings for exploitation that India’s failed criminal justice apparatus offers, to extort money and favours from people, more specifically from the business community. Some also use this process to become rich, virtually overnight.

To end this what is required in India is a complete reengineering of its justice institutions. However, this is not a priority for the incumbent government. India’s Prime Minister, who repeatedly claims that he has a vision for India’s future, has failed to take any measures to rebuild India’s failed justice apparatus. In fact, it is India’s failed justice system that allowed him to become the country’s Prime Minister.

Photo: HKFP.

A rallying call

No country can ensure overall economic prosperity, or cater to the needs of its expatriate business community, if it cannot guarantee justice and equity. The cornerstones of Hong Kong’s business model are the independence of its justice institutions, its efficient corruption prevention mechanism, and the fundamental reforms agencies like the ICAC brought into policing and other administrative organs of the government. Had Hong Kong failed to address police brutality, corruption, and impunity, the territory would have remained what it was infamous for until the 1970s.

Therefore, it is equally the responsibility of India’s business community, whether they are located in India or Hong Kong to encourage the Indian government to radically reform, and, in fact, completely rebuild India’s justice institution framework. It is such a process that can assist India most and be a catalyst for its global business project.

That a jurisdiction like Hong Kong is likely to resort to harsh steps to “filter” Indians entering Hong Kong should be occasion for India’s business community to work hard to demand justice institution reforms in India. In the long run, mere lamentation and threats against restriction to free entry of Indians to Hong Kong will neither help Indian businesses in Hong Kong, nor anyone back in India. A just Indian system, on the other hand, one that protects the rights of all persons and businesses within its jurisdiction, will be a boon to the entire region.

Bijo Francis

Bijo Francis is a lawyer from India. He is the Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014, also known as ‘The Alternative Nobel Prize’. Bijo’s research interests include constitutional law, legal theory, human rights law & practice, and history. Before joining the organisation he was a partner at ABA Associates and has litigated for Fortune 500 companies like SBI, BPCL, TATA Motors, and IOC.