Tam Siu-yin and Gao Feng | Radio Free Asia

Top judges and lawyers have added their voices to a growing chorus of opposition to plans by the Hong Kong government to allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China.

Three senior Hong Kong judges and 12 leading commercial and criminal lawyers say that under Hong Kong’s common law system, extraditions are based on the presumption of a fair trial and humane punishment in the receiving country, Reuters reported.

Such a level of trust has yet to be earned by a justice system that is currently controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the judges and lawyers said.

“These amendments ignore the importance of that trust–and in the case of the mainland, it simply doesn’t exist,” Reuters quoted an anonymous judge as saying. 

“Many of us see this as unworkable, and we are deeply disturbed,” the judge said.

Some judges said there are fears that they could face criticism and political pressure from Beijing, should they rule against any rendition of criminal suspects to mainland China.

Meanwhile, judges who allow such renditions to go ahead could be viewed as caving into the ruling party’s political demands, compromising their independence in the public eye.

Hong Kong second-in-command Matthew Cheung and the city’s Chief justice Geoffrey Ma called on judges not to comment on political issues but declined to address the criticisms voiced in the Reuters report.

Opposition groups are reportedly planning a demonstration against the proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s Fugitive Offenders Ordinance on June 9.

The motion of no confidence

A Democratic Party lawmaker meanwhile tabled a motion of no confidence in the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday, over the proposed changes.

However, the motion was overturned by 40 votes to 23 after six hours of debate in the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo).

Opposition groups set up banners in Hong Kong’s Tin Shui Wai district on Wednesday, in a bid to rally public opposition to the plans.

Protester Kwok Man-ho said the activists are hoping to get through to pro-Beijing communities known as “deep red” in Hong Kong, who have close professional, business and family ties to mainland China.

“Because they usually work in mainland China, they know that the laws of the mainland are different from those of Hong Kong and that the mainland will be able to extradite dissidents from Hong Kong using different standards,” Kwok said.

Kwok said many grass-roots activists in Hong Kong worry that the amendments, if passed, could have a chilling effect on working-class activism in the city, including the labor movement.

He said the separation of legal jurisdictions under the “one country, two systems” framework governing the 1997 handover to China had worked until now to protect the human rights of Hong Kong residents.

“Under ‘one country, two systems’, dissidents have enjoyed the legal protection of their human rights in Hong Kong,” Kwok said. “Why do they worry that Hong Kong will become just another mainland Chinese city? Because their freedom will be curtailed.”

Elite high school alumni petitions

Diplomats from several countries have reportedly expressed fears that their nationals could run afoul of the legal changes, and be transferred to mainland China where there would be scant protection for their human rights.

Last month, thousands of people took to the streets in protest at a planned amendment to existing laws, which will allow the Hong Kong government to grant extradition requests on a case-by-case basis with no meaningful judicial oversight, to countries with which it lacks an extradition treaty.

The most likely jurisdiction to use the proposed provision is mainlandChina, which currently has no formal extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

Several hundred students, teachers and alumni of Hong Kong’s elite high schools including Lam’s alma mater signed petitions calling on the government to withdraw the planned legal changes on Tuesday.

Several hundred people signed a petition started on Tuesday by alumni of St Francis’ Canossian College, where Lam was educated.

“We are standing up … because this has crossed a line for us, and we wanted to express our anger and opposition,” alumnus Ho Chi-kwan, who signed the petition, told RFA. “We are opposed to this amendment … which is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

“We want the whole world to know that we will resist this,” he said. “[Lam] is a fellow alumnus, so we hope she won’t end up going down in history as being guilty for a thousand years.”

Lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector in LegCo, said many people are opposing the amendments, because of the potentially serious consequences for anyone in Hong Kong.

“I think we have to find a way to stop this from happening,” Ip said. “One of the most obvious is the big demonstration on June 9. I think a lot of people are going to turn out for that.”

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