In this May 22, 2019, file photo, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, center, arrives for a meeting at the Legislative Council as the pro-democracy lawmakers chant placard and banner against the new extradition law in Hong Kong. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File

(New York) – The Hong Kong government should withdraw proposed revisions to two laws concerning extradition, Human Rights Watch said today in a joint letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. The letter was co-signed by 68 nongovernmental organizations that work on a broad range of human rights and social issues in Hong Kong and mainland China.

“The proposed changes to the extradition laws will put anyone in Hong Kong doing work related to the mainland at risk,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “No one will be safe, including activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, and social workers.”

Under existing legislation, the Hong Kong government can only extradite people to countries with which it has standing extradition agreements, or to other countries on a case-by-case basis. Changes to these arrangements must be ordered by the Hong Kong chief executive, who is handpicked by the Chinese government and scrutinized by the Legislative Council (LegCo), Hong Kong’s partially elected legislature.

In February 2019, the Hong Kong Security Bureau proposed changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance, which would expand the case-by-case extradition arrangement to mainland China. They would also remove the Legislative Council’s role in reviewing these individual executive requests, a crucial layer of governmental and public oversight.

The Chinese government regularly brings criminal charges, such as fraud, to prosecute and imprison peaceful activists, human rights defenders, and those who oppose government policy in China. The abduction in 2015 of a Hong Kong bookseller who sold books on the private lives of China’s top leaders and was subsequently interrogated by police in China raises concerns that Beijing will increasingly reach into Hong Kong to take into custody those it deems a threat.

The proposed extradition revisions will give the Chinese government a legal tool to take people in Hong Kong into custody, which will have a rippling, chilling effect on free speech in Hong Kong, Human Rights Watch said. Criminal suspects in China’s legal system are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and unfair trials. 

“The extradition law changes would irrevocably damage Hong Kong’s status as the safe harbor for people peacefully promoting human rights in China, and should be scrapped,” Richardson said.