CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 July 2019

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Campaign urges government to withdraw extradition bill

HONG KONG (SE): The Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong collected over 4,000 signatures for a petition urging the Hong Kong government to withdraw its controversial extradition law amendment bill. 
 
In a May 24 statement, the commission said the proposed law, if passed, would allow the extradition of suspects to countries which do not, at present, have any long-term extradition agreement with Hong Kong and are not signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or have laws that are contrary to the Bill of Rights Ordinance, including China, North Korea, Zimbabwe and other jurisdictions. 
 
The commission fears that once the law is enacted, the freedom and safety of people in Hong Kong cannot be guaranteed. The petition campaign will continue at around 10 different parishes on Sunday, June 2.
 
John Cardinal Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of the diocese, made an appeal through the Liturgical Commission, asking the faithful to offer special prayers for Hong Kong and for the personal safety and liberty of its citizens. 
 
The Justice and Peace Commission, together with the social concern group of St. Andrew’s Church, Tseung Kwan O, organised a seminar on May 19 to explain how the extradition law proposal could affect the freedom of the citizens of Hong Kong. According to the Kung Kao Po, around 140 people attended.
 
Erik Shum Sze-man, a barrister and the legal consultant of the Justice and Peace Commission, explained that one problem of the proposed law is that it is the chief executive who would have the final say on whether a suspect should be extradited or not after a court has reviewed an extradition request. 
 
He added that another problem would arise if there is prima facie (first sight) evidence established against a suspect as stated on the extradition application made by the requesting country, the court can release approval documents without summoning any witnesses.
 
According to legislator, Fernardo Cheung Chiu-hung, although nine economic crimes have been exempted from the proposal, the remaining 30 crimes can affect anyone, especially media people and human rights advocates helping people in mainland China. 
 
He also criticised the Legislative Council Secretariat for acting against the quorum of the legislature by releasing a circular demanding that members of the Bills Committee state whether they supported the extradition bill amendments. 
 
Cheung expressed hope that the people of Hong Kong would speak up against the injustice and urged those present to explain the problems behind the proposal to those who do not understand it.
 
A leaflet was published by the Justice and Peace Commission explaining the problems inherent in the proposal, which will endanger the safety of many Hong Kong residents, especially those who bring religious books with unauthorised content to China, Church leaders who support the unofficial Church, or journalists interviewing political dissidents there. 
 
The leaflet quoted Ying Fuk-tsang, the director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as saying that even though the amendment bill says that the law does not apply to cases related to politics or religion, the Chinese government has a long record of prosecuting people who support the unofficial Church in China on economic charges. He is afraid that the same trick will be used in the case of Hong Kong. For example, donations can be twisted to mean illegal capital flows.
 
The leaflet further explains that even people who have never set foot in China will not be safe as they can also be accused of conducting illegal online transactions with people in China and extradited on economic crime charges.
 
It says the law will have a chilling effect on those who speak up against Beijing during political activities in Hong Kong and undermine freedom of speech and assembly in the special administrative region.
 
On May 2, the South China Morning Post quoted a Beijing-friendly legal scholar, Albert Chen Hung-ye, a professor of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the Basic Law Committee, as saying that there should be extra safeguards on the extradition bill, such as empowering local courts to hand over fugitives only to jurisdictions that could provide a fair trial. However, he said his counter-proposal had been turned down by Beijing as well the Hong Kong government.
 
The South China Morning Post also reported on April 27 that bookseller, Lam Wing-kee, who was kidnapped by Chinese agents in 2015 for selling banned books across the border, left Hong Kong on April 25 for a new life in Taiwan. Lam was reported to have been accompanied by legislator Claudia Mo Man-ching, who said Lam was convinced that he is at the top of the list of people to be extradited. 
 
On April 28, around 130,000 people marched from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices in Admiralty to express opposition to the proposed amendment to the extradition law (Sunday Examiner, May 5).
 
At the time, Hong Kong’s chief secretary, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung dismissed the size of the turnout as well as worries that the law could be used to crack down on human rights in Hong Kong.

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