China’s planned national security law for Hong Kong could allow for extraditions to the mainland, the city’s sole representative to Beijing’s top lawmaking body said Wednesday.
The comments by Tam Yiu-chung, a veteran pro-Beijing politician, are significant because it was the threat of extradition to China’s party-controlled courts that ignited last year’s explosive pro-democracy protests.
The semi-autonomous business hub has been convulsed by a year of huge and often violent rallies that began with an eventually aborted criminal extradition bill but morphed into a popular call for democracy and police accountability.
Beijing says the new national security law is needed to end the political unrest and restore stability.
But critics see it as potential knock-out blow for Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms and autonomy.
In an interview with RTHK radio on Wednesday, Tam said he believed some prosecutions alleging foreign interference, or cases involving diplomatic issues, could be handled by China’s central government.
Asked if that might result in Hong Kongers extradited to the mainland for trial he replied: “If the central government thinks it is necessary to do so, not to be handled in Hong Kong courts, then that is an option.”
Tam’s comments come after Deng Zhonghua, the deputy of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said Monday that Beijing will have jurisdiction over some “extremely rare” national security cases once the law is passed.
Under a “One Country, Two Systems” agreement ahead of the handover by Britain, China agreed to let Hong Kong maintain certain liberties and autonomy until 2047 — including legislative and judicial independence.
Critics fear the new law — which will bypass Hong Kong’s legislature — will demolish that separation, and say Beijing has been prematurely eroding the city’s freedoms for years.
Beijing denies those allegations and argues that national security is within its purview.
The Standing Committee, the party organ that will draw up the new law, is sitting on Thursday and Friday.
So far Chinese state media reports have not listed Hong Kong as part of the agenda but Beijing has said it wants the law passed quickly.
On Wednesday a group of 86 NGOs and rights groups — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House — published a joint letter to the Standing Committee calling on it to scrap the proposed law.
“Everything we know about it so far suggests it will threaten the basic rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong.” the letter said.
“It criminalises broad, vague ‘offences’ that can encompass any criticism of the government and be used against people peacefully exercising and defending their human rights,” it added.
Peaceful protests in Hong Kong have rekindled since China announced the proposed law, albeit on a smaller scale.
Riot police have moved quickly against such rallies, citing anti-coronavirus measures banning large public gatherings.