Britain will become a haven for Hong Kong fugitives involved in last year’s anti-government protests, city officials and politicians have said amid expectations the country will suspend its extradition treaty with its former colony.
The accusation came after British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab indicated he would unveil the suspension in parliament on Monday, following a sweeping national security law Beijing put in place for Hong Kong on June 30. Lawmakers in Britain feared the extradition arrangement could be exploited by Hong Kong for political persecution in future.
A war of words broke out between London and Beijing before the expected announcement.
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that while his government would continue to engage with China, it would also get “tough on some things”. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin hit back, saying Britain should “stop going further down the wrong path”.
Since the national security law was passed, the British government has also announced that it would offer wider residency rights – which could pave the way for citizenship – to holders of British National (Overseas) passports.
At least two anti-government protesters facing criminal allegations have been intercepted at Hong Kong’s airport since then, while trying to board a London-bound flight.
Former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said: “I think the suspension is meant to protect fugitives involved in last year’s riots and other criminal offences wanted by our police.”
A senior government source, who requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak on record, said the Hong Kong government was not surprised at the pending suspension since Britain’s offers to BN(O) holders.
The country could be turned into “a haven” for deemed criminals involved in the protests, he said, as a few activists had already flown to Britain, with at least two wanted persons stopped before boarding a plane over the past week after being accused of attacking police officers.
A 17-year-old woman was intercepted at Hong Kong International Airport on Friday last week after she tried to jump bail for allegedly assaulting an officer at an anti-government protest last September.
Earlier this month, police boarded a Cathay Pacific flight bound for Britain to arrest a man accused of stabbing an officer during a July 1 protest against the national security law. He was charged with wounding with intent.
The suspension also means UK police will not receive help from us to get the fugitives they want
Regina Ip, cabinet adviser
Ip, a lawmaker and also an adviser in the city leader’s cabinet, warned that the British suspension would affect both jurisdictions. “The suspension also means UK police will not receive help from us to get the fugitives they want,” she said.
Citing Security Bureau figures, Ip said Hong Kong had sent eight fugitives to Britain between the handover in 1997 and 2018. In the same period, Britain returned 10 to Hong Kong.
The offences ranged from IT crimes to those involving sex, drugs and money laundering, according to the bureau’s paper filed to the Legislative Council last year.
Ip said she believed that Britain, as well as the United States, which is preparing a similar move, still treasured Hong Kong’s help in counterterrorism and anti-money-laundering, apart from fighting other transnational crimes, as they had refrained from making any reference that the suspension would be bilateral.
The government source said: “The harms [of suspending the extradition treaty] will be mutual. Criminals wanted by Britain can flee to Hong Kong too. Figures show that the country also wanted fugitives from us.”
Britain will become the third member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to cut off fugitive-transfer arrangements with Hong Kong. Canada and Australia earlier suspended their treaties, citing fear of political persecution. New Zealand has said it was reassessing the arrangement as part of a “deliberate, considered review” of its relations with Hong Kong.
The UK decision … is a blow to the rule of law in both places
Grenville Cross, former director of public prosecutions
Former director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross called Britain’s move a “step backwards”.
“The UK decision … is a blow to the rule of law in both places, and will send out the message that anyone who, for example, commits murder, robbery, drug trafficking, bribery or sexual crimes against children in Hong Kong, can simply evade justice by flying to London, and vice versa,” he said.
He also said the British decision appeared to have been driven by its own interests, siding with the US for better economic prospects after its exit from the European Union.
Johnny Patterson, director of Hong Kong Watch, a London-based group which monitors human rights in the city, called it the “right decision” by the British government.
“The national security law is like the extradition bill on steroids. It totally shatters the constitutional safeguards which protect human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that Britain could no longer guarantee that people extradited to the city would receive a fair trial.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun warned of wider implications. He said the extradition treaty in place already had safeguards to prevent fugitives from being transferred under political pressure. There was no need for countries to suspend the whole arrangement, he said.
“They no longer believe in Hong Kong’s autonomy and legal system so they don’t want to process every case on an individual basis,” he added.
To said the situation showed that distrust ran deep and reflected that Britain no longer believed fugitives would be treated fairly in the city. He said Hong Kong was now fighting a “battle of credibility”, pointing out that while city officials had labelled suspects as rioters, Britain’s move suggested they were under political persecution.
Assaulting a police officer, for example, doesn’t make you a political prisoner deserving of protection
But a police insider involved in dealing with the months-long anti government protests disagreed with To, saying those who attempted to flee the city over the past two weeks were wanted for serious crimes against people and property.
“The offences these rioters have committed have nothing to do with politics. It’s just blatant crimes against mankind. Assaulting a police officer, for example, doesn’t make you a political prisoner deserving of protection,” the source said.
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More from South China Morning Post:
- Britain signals it will suspend extradition treaty with Hong Kong
- Britain opens door for 2.9 million Hongkongers with BN(O) passports to stay at least a year in the UK
This article National security law: Britain will be haven for protest fugitives, Hong Kong officials and politicians say ahead of extradition deal suspension first appeared on South China Morning Post