Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten has hit out over the city’s planned extradition law update, calling the proposal an “assault on Hong Kong’s values stability and security.”

His statement on Saturday came ahead of a mass rally against the impending legislation, which amounted to the largest protest since the 2014 Umbrella Movement demonstrations.

Chris Patten.
Chris Patten. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

In March, the government proposed rolling out a case-by-case system that would allow the city to handle extradition requests from jurisdictions where there were no pre-existing deals – most notably mainland China and Taiwan. The legal sectorjournalistsforeign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over how the law may put local residents at risk, but the government has said that human rights and procedural safeguards will be maintained.

Lord Patten, now the chancellor of Oxford University, disputed the government’s claim that the law is required to close a legal loophole: “What has changed in the 21 years since the handover? Societies which believe in the rule of law do not reach agreements like this with those who do not. These changes are an assault on Hong Kong’s values, stability and security. They create fear and uncertainty for business at a time when we should all be working to safeguard Hong Kong’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest business and financial centres.”

umbrella extradition protest rally hong kong china (2)
Photo: inmediahk.net.

Patten added that political activism and business interests could be at risk: “These measures are a direct attack on the principle of one country two systems and Hong Kong’s autonomy under the rule of law. They further make it difficult to explain to the outside world that Beijing can be trusted to keep its word and that Hong Kong is different from mainland Chinese cities and must be treated as such.”

Britain’s colonial government was opposed to an extradition agreement between Hong Kong and China, according to declassified files publicised by research group Decoding Hong Kong’s History. The UK authorities cited Beijing as saying that its own domestic extradition laws were underdeveloped.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam previously urged the legislature to pass the amendment before July, since Hong Kong courts may be forced to free a man who allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend during a trip to Taiwan last year, if there was no option to extradite him. Democrats, however, have sought to hinder the bill’s progress at the legislature.

‘Rights respected’

Organisers say 130,000 people attended Sunday’s protest against the proposal. In a statement following the protest, a government spokesperson said existing rights would be respected under the new case-based arrangement: “These include the double criminality principle, protection against death penalty, restriction against re-surrender, rule against double jeopardy, application for habeas corpus and right to appeal and judicial review, etc.”

extradition china protest rally hong kong
Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Chan Tong-kai – the 19-year-old suspect at the centre of the Taiwan case – will be sentenced on Monday on charges of money laundering. The legislative debate on the extradition law is also set to continue next week.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.