Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee has announced three main changes to the government’s extradition bill – which hew closely to requests previously made by the pro-Beijing camp.
Lee said on Thursday evening that the threshold for extradition will be raised so that it only applies to those accused of crimes punishable by seven years or more in jail. The threshold was previously set at three years.
Additionally, Lee said the city will only entertain rendition requests made by top authorities in a jurisdiction, which in China’s case will mean the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
Lee added that the Hong Kong government will be able to impose conditions as part of any fugitive transfer, such as requiring the presumption of innocence, an open trial and legal representation.
The suggestions had been raised by Beijing-friendly political parties, but Lee said that the government decided on the measures after hearing opinions from all sectors.
Hong Kong proposed legal amendments in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China and Taiwan. The plan would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle extradition requests without legislative oversight, though lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland.
In a joint statement issued an hour after Lee’s press briefing, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland urged Hong Kong to ensure the new law was in keeping with the city’s autonomy.
“We are concerned about the potential effect of these proposals on the large number of UK and Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, on business confidence and on Hong Kong’s international reputation. Furthermore, we believe that there is a risk that the proposals could impact negatively on the rights and freedoms set down in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the statement said.
“We urge the Hong Kong Government to engage meaningfully with Hong Kong’s broad range of local and international stakeholders in order to ensure their concerns are fully considered. We believe that the Hong Kong Government should allow time to give proper consideration of all alternative options and safeguards.”
However, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce – which previously criticised the plan – issued a statement in support of Lee’s amendments on Thursday night: “We are pleased that the Government has taken on-board our suggestions to enhance the safeguards on its proposed legislative amendments,” said Chairman Aron Harilela. “Having a comprehensive safeguard mechanism in place is vital.”
Hong Kong’s legal sector will hold a rare protest next Thursday calling for the withdrawal of the bill, where lawyers are expected to march in silence dressed in black.
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