Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 13 February 2021



Hong Kong: alarm over proposed law that could ban anyone from leaving

Barristers say proposal would give head of immigration ‘unfettered power’ to stop people leaving the city without any court process

A hard hat is seen on a coffin, as protesters gather at an event organised to mourn the loss of Hong Kong’s political freedoms, in Leicester Square, central London
Agence France-Presse

Last modified on Sat 13 Feb 2021 05.14 GMT

The influential Hong Kong Bar Association has spoken out against a government proposal that could give “apparently unfettered power” to the immigration director to stop anyone leaving the city.

The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) expressed alarm on Friday in a paper submitted to the city’s legislative council about the proposed law, which could bar any individual – whether resident or not – from boarding a carrier out of the financial hub.

“It is particularly troubling that the grounds on which such an intrusive power may be exercised are not stated in the proposed legislation, and no explanation for why such a power is necessary, or even how it is intended to be used, is set out,” HKBA said in the submission.

“If a new power to prevent Hong Kong residents and others from leaving the region is to be conferred ... It should be for the courts, not the director, to decide when it is necessary and proportionate to impose a travel ban,” it added.

Since the imposition of a new national security law in June last year, an increasing number of democracy activists and politicians have fled into exile, as China tightens its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

The political situation has also prompted a broader exodus of Hongkongers, many of whom are taking up immigration plans offered by places including the UK, Canada and nearby Taiwan.

In late January, the city’s government proposed amending an existing law to empower the director of immigration to bar an individual from leaving without first going through a court.

The HKBA also pointed out that there were existing powers to prevent a person from leaving Hong Kong, including the newly implemented security law, which can demand the surrender of travel documents in certain circumstances.

The need for further legislation is “difficult to understand”, it concluded.

Since Beijing’s imposition of the national security law to snuff out huge democracy protests, nearly 100 people, including democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai and prominent activist Joshua Wong, have been arrested.

Four of them have been charged with crimes that could bring them life imprisonment if convicted.

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