Hong Kong (CNN)The UK government has expressed concern over a new extradition law between Hong Kong and China, as British lawmakers warned the move could see pro-democracy activists, journalists, and foreign business owners surrendered to Chinese authorities.
UK lawmakers warn journalists and activists could be extradited to China under new law
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had "formally lodged our initial concerns" with the Hong Kong government, he said in a letter to Chris Patten, the city's last colonial governor.
"We have made it clear to the Chinese and Hong Kong Special Administrative Regions that it is vital that Hong Kong enjoys, and is seen to enjoy, the full measure of its high degree of autonomy and rule of law as set out in the Joint Declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law. ... I can assure you that I, and my department, will continue to closely monitor developments in Hong Kong," Hunt said, according to a copy of the letter Patten shared with UK-based pressure group Hong Kong Watch.
"It is clear that the relatively short formal consultation process has not been sufficient to capture the wide-ranging views on this important topic.
While Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, the city operates its own legal and political system, and citizens enjoy a number of freedoms not protected on the mainland. At present, Hong Kong does not have an extradition law with China, Taiwan or Macau, a situation officials in the city say has created loopholes preventing criminals from being brought to justice.
Fear that the law will allow dissidents and pro-democracy activists to be bundled over the border to China has dogged the bill since it was first suggested, however.
Business groups too have expressed concerns, prompting the government to remove nine economic crimes from the list of potentially extraditable offenses. The government also changed the minimum severity of offense from those carrying one year in prison to three.
In a statement responding to those changes, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) said members continued "to have serious concerns about the revised proposal."
"Those concerns flow primarily from the fact that the new arrangements could be used for rendition from Hong Kong to a number of jurisdictions with criminal procedure systems very different from that of Hong Kong -- which provides strong protections for the legitimate rights of defendants -- without the opportunity for public and legislative scrutiny of the fairness of those systems and the specific safeguards that should be sought in cases originating from them," the AmCham statement said.
"We strongly believe that the proposed arrangements will reduce the appeal of Hong Kong to international companies considering Hong Kong as a base for regional operations."