Hong Kong’s leader says she believes the murder suspect who triggered the extradition bill crisis remains committed to facing justice in Taiwan when the political climate and the coronavirus crisis allow it.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday she was receiving updates on Chan Tong-kai – the Hongkonger wanted on the self-ruled island for the 2018 killing of his 19-year-old pregnant girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing in Taipei – through the priest who had been supporting him.
“What I gathered to this day is that the situation remains the same, that is, provided the political climate, pandemic and the exchanges of people between the two places allow, Chan is still willing to go back to Taiwan to face criminal sanctions,” Lam told her weekly press briefing.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
But she also said there was little she could do because Chan was no longer considered a criminal in the city and there was no agreement between the two jurisdictions over transferring fugitives.
The fate of Chan, who is staying in a Hong Kong safe house, returned to the spotlight this week when the victim’s mother broke her silence to urge Chan to fulfil his promise to hand himself over to the Taiwan authorities.
He pledged to travel back to Taiwan after his release in October last year from a Hong Kong prison, where he served 19 months on money-laundering charges related to Poon’s killing. The city’s courts could not try him for the murder because it fell outside their jurisdiction.
Chan’s case was held up by the Hong Kong leader as a key justification for her now-withdrawn extradition bill, which last year ignited months of anti-government protests across the city and a political tussle with Taiwan.
The legislation, if passed, would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions, such as Taiwan and mainland China, with which Hong Kong had no extradition deal.
Lam on Tuesday said Hong Kong officials’ hands were tied because Chan was technically a “free man” having served his punishment for breaking city laws.
“It was firstly due to political issues, and then pandemic issues, that no discussion [on surrender] could have been initiated,” Lam said.
“But through Reverend Peter Koon Ho-ming, my understanding all along is that Chan Tong-kai is willing to accept his legal responsibility and is willing to go to Taiwan to hand himself in.”
She pledged to offer assistance to Koon, who is a senior Anglican priest and visited Chan in jail, or anyone else committed to facilitating Chan’s surrender.
The Chan saga ignited a war of words between Hong Kong and Taiwan ahead of the latter’s presidential election in January, as both sides failed to agree on the process for his surrender.
Tensions between the two governments have also surfaced more recently. Last week, Taiwanese authorities rejected “malicious accusations” from Hong Kong’s security chief that Taipei had sought to “harbour criminals” in its handling of five suspected fugitives, who allegedly fled to the self-governed island to seek asylum.
Commenting on a separate case, Lam said the Hong Kong government also lacked the legal authority to ensure the 12 Hongkongers detained over the border were afforded human right safeguards under the mainland criminal justice system, because the extradition bill was shelved due to widespread opposition.
The dozen – most of whom are wanted in the city for protest-related offences, with one being investigated under the national security law recently imposed by Beijing – were intercepted by the mainland’s coastguard while allegedly fleeing to Taiwan.
“When [the extradition bill] did not go through, it means we do not have the legal basis to do the things that you want us to do,” she said.
Under proposals issued last May to allay business and political concerns over the bill, the government said those extradited from Hong Kong would be subject to safeguards, including the presumption of innocence, freedom from coerced confession and the rights to open trial and legal representation. It was part of a string of amendments designed to gain support for the doomed bill.
The safeguards were not written into the bill, but were to be included in the agreements signed between Hong Kong and another jurisdiction before the transfer of a fugitive took place.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong protests: murder suspect at centre of extradition bill crisis will surrender to Taiwan authorities ‘once borders reopen’
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam ‘relieved’ that murder suspect in extradition saga which sparked protest crisis to turn himself in to Taiwan