By July, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) could amend its extradition law, making it legal to hand over residents or visitors accused of a crime in China. The news has generated extreme concern in the Hong Kong media community, considering that more than 65 journalists are currently jailed in China in life-threatening conditions. While on paper the bill would exclude political and economic crimes as well as cases where human rights are at risk, many fear that the Hong Kong authorities would not have the ability to reject Beijing’s requests.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Legislative Council members to reject the proposed amendments that would bring undue pressure on journalists. “The Chinese regime has shown on multiple occasions that it needs no solid grounds to punish critical voices,” says Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “If such a regulation was adopted, Beijing would no longer have to resort to abduction, and would simply be able to seize whoever they wish to silence under a false accusation.”
Swedish Publisher Gui Minhai, owner of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong, was abducted in Thailand in 2015 for an alleged hit and run in China but remains detained under accusation of “illegally providing state secrets and intelligence overseas.” Another Hong Kong-based publisher, Yiu Man-tin, also known as Yao Wentian, who prepared to publish a book critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping, was sentenced to ten years in 2014 for “smuggling prohibited items”.
The proposal comes in the months approaching the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover back to China on July 1st, 1997. Under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, the Special Administrative Region is supposed to enjoy a separate status until 2047 but, over the years, China has made concerted efforts to tighten its grip around the media.
Hong Kong’s ranking has plummeted from 18 in 2002 to 73 this year, while China ranks 177 out of 180 in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index.