A Hong Kong government proposal that could give “apparently unfettered power” to the immigration director to stop anyone from leaving the city is deeply concerning, barristers said Friday.

Hong Kong’s influential Bar Association (HKBA) submitted a paper to the city’s legislative council expressing alarm over the law, which could bar any individual — Hong Kong resident or not — from boarding a carrier out of the financial hub.

Photo: GovHK.

Since the imposition of a new national security law last June, an increasing number of democracy activists and politicians have fled the financial hub and gone into exile, as China tightens its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

The political situation has also prompted an exodus of Hong Kongers in general, many of whom are taking up immigration plans offered by places including the UK, Canada and nearby Taiwan. 

In late January, the city’s government proposed amending an existing law to empower the director of immigration to bar an individual from leaving without first going through a court. 

“It is particularly troubling that the grounds on which such an intrusive power may be exercised are not stated in the proposed legislation, and no explanation for why such a power is necessary, or even how it is intended to be used, is set out,” HKBA said in the submission on Friday.

“If a new power to prevent Hong Kong residents and others from leaving the region is to be conferred… It should be for the courts, not the director, to decide when it is necessary and proportionate to impose a travel ban,” it added.

Photo: GovHK.

It also pointed out that there are existing powers to prevent a person from leaving Hong Kong, including the newly implemented security law which can demand the surrender of travel documents in certain circumstances.

The need for further legislation is “difficult to understand,” it concluded. 

Since Beijing’s imposition of the national security law to snuff out huge and often violent democracy protests, nearly 100 people, including democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai and prominent activist Joshua Wong have been arrested. 

Four of them were officially charged with crimes that could bring them life imprisonment if convicted.

Last August, a dozen activists were arrested by the Chinese coastguard when they tried to flee the city to Taiwan by boat.

Most of those aboard the vessel had been charged in Hong Kong for alleged offences linked to 2019’s protests, and one of them was arrested under the security law.

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