Eleven representatives from the European Union urged Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to fine-tune the city’s controversial extradition bill, as they handed her a formal protest note to put their concerns on the record on Friday.
Sources said they asked Lam to add safeguards so the judiciary would take international human rights standards into account in vetting fugitive transfer requests under the amended legislation, which would allow criminal suspects to be sent back to mainland China.
“We can confirm that the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau, together with its member states, met Chief Executive Carrie Lam to carry out a démarche reiterating their concerns regarding the government’s proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s Fugitive Offenders Ordinance,” a spokesman for the EU Office said.
A source told the Post the EU nations wanted extra precautions put in place that would have similar standards as international human rights accords and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.
Eight members of the US Congress and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China also sent a letter to Lam on Thursday, asking for the extradition bill to be withdrawn. They expressed concern that the bill would negatively impact the relationship between the United States and Hong Kong.
The EU raised the stakes as a visiting aide to the Canadian foreign minister also expressed concern about the bill, while the government went all out to present a united front in pushing ahead with it, assembling more than 100 officials on Friday in a special meeting to bring them up to speed on the justification for amending the law.
Hong Kong’s commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah weighed in to say he had also explained the bill to British businessmen and politicians during a recent visit to London.
After meeting a group of Hong Kong lawmakers, Canadian MP Rob Oliphant, who is also the parliamentary secretary to the country’s foreign minister, said Ottawa’s strong concerns about the bill were not related to the tensions between Canada and China.
“It’s solely about businesses, assets which could be frozen, and individuals who could be extradited to a system without the rule of law that we value,” he said.
The Hong Kong government’s “Special Heads of Departments’ Meeting”, chaired by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, involved ministers, permanent secretaries and their deputies, as well as heads and deputy heads of various government departments and policy bureaus.
A source familiar with the situation said Cheung “spoke in general and broad terms” while Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu talked about the substance of the bill, which would allow the transfer of fugitives from Hong Kong to jurisdictions with which the city has no extradition deal.
The prospect of suspects being sent back to the mainland under the amended law has raised fears among those who doubt they will get a fair trial.
“The speakers said there was an element of US-China tension now and that the US government speaking out on the controversy over the extradition bill was probably because of the tension between the two countries,” the source said.
“They also talked about the ‘unfortunate’ timing and politicisation of the bill.”
Another source said the meeting was aimed at informing officials about the details of the legislation. The proposal has met resistance from pro-democracy politicians and Western governments as well as the business community.
The session was not for instructing them to support the bill, the source added.
“As department heads, they have to know what’s going on. They also need to know what the government has been doing, and what the public concerns are,” he said.
After the meeting, Cheung dismissed the suggestion he was trying to put pressure on other officials to support the bill.
“Do not over-interpret. We also organised something similar in other policy areas such as elderly care … and innovation and technology. Were we trying to exert pressure there too?” he said.
As department heads, they have to know what’s going on. They also need to know what the government has been doing, and what the public concerns are
The second source also revealed that in a recent meeting Lam had reminded ministers to avoid unnecessary personal leave before the extradition bill was approved by the Legislative Council, something the government hoped to achieve by July.
John Lee previously wrote to the chairwoman of Legco’s House Committee, Starry Lee Wai-king, notifying her of his intention to resume the second reading of the bill at a full council meeting on June 12.
After a five-hour meeting on Friday, the House Committee, dominated by the pro-establishment camp, passed a motion in support of John Lee’s move.
It also passed another motion to dissolve a bills committee, which had not been able to start scrutinising the legislation because of a bitter dispute between opposition and pro-establishment lawmakers over who should chair it.
Meanwhile, two locally based pro-Beijing newspapers, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, on Thursday quoted an unnamed “authoritative source” who raised several circumstances under which Hong Kong could extradite a suspect to the mainland.
A fugitive transfer could be arranged when a person committed a crime on the mainland and fled to Hong Kong, when a Hongkonger threatened national security, and when a foreigner committed a China-related crime abroad before coming to Hong Kong.
The source added that only the first circumstance would “genuinely warrant” extradition.
“For [Hongkongers threatening national security], if it is a crime under the city’s law, such matters will generally be left to Hong Kong’s judiciary,” the source was quoted as saying, and that extraditing a foreigner to the mainland would also be “unlikely”.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a cabinet adviser to Lam, said Hongkongers did not have to worry about being sent across the border on national security or other political grounds.
“Under the bill, political crime suspects will not be transferred,” he said.
The bill covers 37 types of extraditable offences, including murder, fraud and bribery. Offences related to national security are not extraditable.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Fugitive tycoon Joseph Lau wins permission to hire top British human rights lawyer David Pannick in court fight against controversial Hong Kong extradition bill
- Hong Kong extradition law: Beijing-friendly legal heavyweight Albert Chen breaks silence to call for extra safeguards on contentious proposal
This article 11 EU representatives meet Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to protest against controversial extradition bill as government gathers 100 officials to build united front first appeared on South China Morning Post