The Hong Kong government’s stated willingness to use the national security law extraterritorially to target dissidents who criticize it from abroad has sparked outrage.
On Tuesday, some 50 civil society organizations linked to the former British colony urged Western countries hosting the dissidents in question to strengthen measures in place to “protect” them and allow them to continue their pro-democracy campaign without fear of reprisals.
The appeal followed a statement by the Hong Kong authorities, who announced the day before they had issued arrest warrants for eight Hong Kong nationals accused of sedition for acts carried out after they left for exile.
The pro-Beijing regime announced in the process that any information leading to their arrest would result in a reward of 1 million Hong Kong dollars, or roughly 170,000 Canadian dollars.
The former colony’s chief executive, John Lee, warned that the targeted activists would be prosecuted “until the end of their days” and live in constant fear if they refused to surrender.
He promised at the same time that their behavior would be monitored, without specifying how he intended to do so.
States that do not have an international scope
Robert Tebow, a Canadian lawyer who long practiced in Hong Kong before running into trouble with local authorities, points out that the announced arrest warrants do not in and of themselves have any international significance.
Most countries will ignore them. However, there is a risk of extradition if the targeted defectors decide to travel to countries with close ties to China, such as Iran or Cambodia,” warns the lawyer.
He believes the real danger is that Hong Kong will seek important information on dissidents’ movements to stage kidnappings abroad, even if it means violating the territorial sovereignty of other countries in the process.
“The leaders of Hong Kong and China have shown that they care little about what other countries might think of their actions,” notes Mr. Thibault.
Several Western countries that have received dissidents in Hong Kong suspended the implementation of the extradition treaties that linked them to the former colony in 2020 when a national security law was passed.
This is particularly the case of Canada, which has described the law as a serious attack on the principles of the “one country, two systems” formula put in place during the former colony’s 1997 reboot to protect the basic freedoms of its residents. .
An “extreme” interpretation of the law
Authorities have used the National Security Law, which promises harsh prison sentences for ill-defined offenses such as sedition or collusion with foreign forces, to quell popular protest in Hong Kong.
Great Britain strongly condemned the extraterritorial application that was announced at the beginning of the week, and considered it an expression of the “tyranny” of the Chinese regime.
The United States, for its part, denounced a “dangerous precedent” that threatens “the fundamental freedoms of people everywhere in the world.”
On Tuesday it was not possible to get a reaction from Global Affairs Canada.
Nathan Law, a former leader of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement who is a refugee in Britain, asserted on Twitter that the arrest warrants were based on an “extremist” interpretation of the law and intended to stifle dissenting voices.
He stressed that “we must not limit ourselves, control ourselves, and not be afraid or live in fear.”
Tebow, who helped whistleblower Edward Snowden hide and flee Hong Kong in 2013 after highly sensitive US intelligence documents were leaked, notes that such surveillance has become the norm in the former colony.
The Canadian national, who says he has been subjected to a long campaign of harassment by local authorities because of his support for Edward Snowden and the refugees who have taken him in, says many of the lawyers defending opponents have been arrested or forced into exile.
Disciplinary proceedings were opened against him on the basis of anonymous allegations and prompted him to give up his practice there permanently, notes the attorney, who now practices law in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Tebow notes that the Hong Kong government’s authoritarian measures completely undermine its leaders’ efforts to ensure its “international legitimacy.”
He concludes, “We are approaching totalitarianism.”
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