June 4, 2019 / 6:52 PM / 4 months ago

Extradition law is 'final nail' in Hong Kong's coffin: activist

BERLIN (Reuters) - A Hong Kong independence activist said on Tuesday that proposed amendments to the city’s legal system that would allow captured fugitives to be sent to China could deal a fatal blow to the territory’s judicial independence.

Juergen Trittin of the German Green Party welcomes Hong Kong activists Ray Wong and Alan Li at a party event in the German Parliament to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre in Berlin, Germany, June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Speaking on the 30th anniversary of China’s military crackdown on student-led democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square, Ray Wong urged democratic countries to up the pressure on the Chinese government to respect human rights.

“This law is the final nail in the coffin,” Wong, who was granted refugee status in Germany, told Reuters TV in Berlin. “Because if this law is passed the legal system in Hong Kong will be destroyed. Hong Kong will be just another city in China.”

Calls to the Chinese embassy and Hong Kong’s Economic and Trade Office in Berlin seeking comment went unanswered.

The legal amendments being pushed by the special administrative region’s government mark one of the starkest challenges to Hong Kong’s legal system and are increasingly troubling its business, political and diplomatic communities.

The city’s independent legal system was guaranteed under the laws governing Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago and is seen by the financial hub’s business and diplomatic communities as its strongest remaining asset amid encroachments from Beijing. Hong Kong’s extensive autonomy is guaranteed until 2047.

Wong spoke to Reuters before a seminar on human rights in China in the Bundestag lower house on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, which was marked with a somber candlelight vigil in Hong Kong attended by tens of thousands.

The proposed changes provide for case-by-case extraditions to countries, including mainland China, beyond the 20 states with which Hong Kong already has treaties.

The amendments allow for the chief executive to both seek the arrest of a fugitive and sign off on their extradition once approved by the courts, including any appeals and judicial reviews.

But they also eliminate the oversight roles of the chief executive’s cabinet and the city’s legislative body, which can currently step in to evaluate extradition arrangements.

Wong is one of two Hong Kong activists facing rioting charges in Hong Kong who have been granted refugee status by Germany. China’s Xinhua state news agency on May 25 said Beijing had made “solemn representations” to Germany over its decision, demanding Berlin correct its “mistakes”.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has also expressed “deep regrets and strong objections” to Germany about the case. Hong Kong authorities deny persecuting activists.

Greens parliamentary leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt said German companies doing business in China should become more aware of the country’s human rights violations, including the detention of more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in what activists say are mass detention camps.

“German companies are doing business in China very carelessly,” she said.

China has faced growing international condemnation for what it calls re-education and training centers in the remote western region of Xinjiang. Some 5,200 German companies are active in China, employing about 1.1 million people, compared with 900 Chinese companies with branches in Europe’s largest economy.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that companies that take part in human rights violations and mass surveillance in China are granted no public contracts in Germany,” said Goering-Eckardt. “We must sanction human rights violators.”

Writing by Joseph Nasr, Editing by William Maclean

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