The Hong Kong government’s proposal for a case-by-case system for fugitive transfers has been hit with a fresh round of criticism, but plans will go ahead regardless, according to democrats.

Secretary for Security John Lee met with pro-democracy camp convener Claudia Mo and Civic Party lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung on Wednesday. After the meeting, Yeung quoted Lee as saying that there will be no public consultation, and that the Hong Kong authorities had already started discussions with their mainland counterparts.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu. File Photo: GovHK.

“The Taiwan case highlighted a large deficiency in the existing law… we must find a way to solve the loophole in the long-term,” Lee told reporters after the meeting.

The government’s move was in response to the case of Poon Hiu-wing, a pregnant 20-year-old Hong Kong woman who was killed during a trip to Taiwan last February. Hong Kong authorities arrested Poon’s boyfriend Chan Tong-kai, but were unable to charge him with murder in local courts.

Hong Kong has mutual extradition agreements with 20 jurisdictions – such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia – but the list does not include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

The proposed system, which works on a case-by-case basis, will allow Hong Kong to handle extradition requests from jurisdictions with no pre-existing agreement.

The pro-Beijing camp supported the proposal, saying that it was the only way to bring justice to the victim’s family. Leader of the New People’s Party Regina Ip also said that safeguards relating to human rights and due process will remain.

Alvin Yeung Dennis Kwok
Civic Party lawmakers Alvin Yeung and Dennis Kwok. Photo: Civic Party handout.

However, the pro-democracy camp cast doubt on the proposal, as the legal amendment will hypothetically allow Hong Kong residents to be extradited to the mainland.

Democrats also said that, under the proposed system, an extradition request would only go through the chief executive and the courts – circumventing the legislature.

At the Wednesday meeting with Lee, Kwok and Yeung suggested focusing the new rules to apply only to Taiwan, and to add a “sunset clause” so the law would expire after the murder case was resolved. According to the lawmakers, Lee turned down the suggestion.

‘No choice’ but to leave

The extradition proposal drew a list of high-profile opponents, including bookseller Lam Wing-kee. “This time it is obvious that [the government] wants to go after Hong Kong dissidents, but they use a murder case in Taiwan to misdirect the public,” Lam told Citizen News.

“If this amendment really passes then it will be wholesale destruction – I am going to leave. Even without Article 23, this law will force me to go and I will have no choice,” he added.

Lam Wing-kee
Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Lam was the founder of Causeway Bay Books, which specialised in political titles banned in the mainland. Lam went missing from Shenzhen in October 2015. He re-emerged on state TV months later “confessing” to crimes of helping to run a business to “illegally” send books to the mainland.

Barrister Margaret Ng also spoke strongly in opposition to the amendment, saying that the same idea was debated at Hong Kong’s legislature in 1998, but was ultimately rejected.

In an interview with Stand News, Ng said that the Hong Kong government at the time believed it could not ensure that the fugitive, once returned, would be treated in a way that is up to international human rights standards.

“No Hongkonger would believe that extradition to mainland China will guarantee a fair trial,” she said. Ng added that, in cases related to national security, people in Hong Kong could fall foul of Chinese laws without even stepping foot in the mainland.

“If Xi Jinping asks Carrie Lam to extradite Lam Wing-kee, does she have the ability to not do it?” she said.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.