A file photo showing students carrying the Chinese flag (front) and a Hong Kong flag during a parade on the streets of Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

The Hong Kong government’s sudden proposal to amend laws to allow easier surrenders of wanted persons to mainland China, Macau and Taiwan – all places Hong Kong has no extradition treaties with – has stoked fears in the city that dissidents and even local critics of Beijing could be turned over under the new arrangement.

Hong Kong’s pan-democratic bloc has lashed out at the government’s plan to amend laws for a shortcut to hand over criminal suspects, but officials with the city’s Security Bureau have assured there will be human rights safeguards to avoid abuse or political prosecution.

“I know the Hong Kong government has implied that political cases will not be entertained, but we all know Beijing could always package ideological crimes in the form of economic offenses [and request Hong Kong to surrender a person it wants],” an opposition lawmaker told RTHK.

The fear is that the city may cease to be a safe haven for dissidents fleeing mainland China as they may face the risk of being returned. As some democrats said, Beijing can just frame up some charges related to economic crimes against a person if it wants to get around human rights safeguards.

The same may also happen to Hong Kong residents wanted by the mainland, like the Hong Kong booksellers who mailed items banned by Beijing to buyers across the border. But some legal experts pointed out that Hong Kong already had extradition treaties with countries that have death penalties, like the United States, adding that the proposed arrangement refers to 46 types of offenses, none of which related to national security offenses.

The government said the protocol would be that it would insist a death penalty not be applied and it returned the person only if sufficient assurances could be given that a death penalty, torture or other political prosecution would not be applied. Beijing gave such assurances in the case involving Lai Changxing, the kingpin of a massive smuggling syndicate, who was returned by Canada in 2011.

In a paper to the city’s Legislative Council, the Hong Kong government said it wanted to close loopholes exposed by a case in which a Hong Kong man returned to the city after allegedly murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan last year. The suspect cannot be deported to Taiwan for trial because Hong Kong and Taiwan have no formal rendition arrangement.

It said the amendments would make it possible for the government to adopt a one-off, case-by-case approach to hand over or deport fugitives or offer legal assistance to all jurisdictions across the globe, and a local court would vet each case and decided if a request from another jurisdiction should be entertained.

The government said it would submit the amendment bill for its first reading within the current legislative year.

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