Hong Kong’s legislature passed a new immigration bill on Wednesday that gives immigration authorities the power to stop people from entering or leaving the territory even without a court order.
The bill that has raised concerns among some sections of society who fears that Chinese mainland style “exit bans” could be deployed in the international business hub.
The legislation sailed through the city’s legislature which is now devoid of opposition as Beijing seeks to quash dissent and make the semi-autonomous city more like the mainland.
Activists, lawyers and some business figures have sounded the alarm over various provisions within the Bill, including one that allows the city’s immigration chief to bar people from boarding planes to and from the city where no court order is required and there is no recourse to appeal.
The city’s influential Bar Association (HKBA) warned that the Bill’s wording gave “apparently unfettered power” to the immigration director.
“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,” HKBA said in a February submission.
So-called “exit bans” are often used in mainland China against activists who challenge authorities. Opponents fear that the same tactic could now be employed in Hong Kong.
“We have seen China’s practice to suppress dissidents and human rights lawyers via restrictions on their movements in and out of the country,” said barrister Chow Hang-tung, from the Hong Kong Alliance.
Hong Kong’s government said the new Bill was needed to address a backlog of non-refoulement claims and to screen illegal immigrants before they depart for the city.
“It will only apply to flights heading to Hong Kong,” the Security Bureau said in a recent statement.
However, the wording of the Bill does not limit the power to arriving flights, and legal analysts fear it could also be deployed against people leaving Hong Kong.
“The government is using the refugee issue as an excuse to expand their power,” Chow said.
Faith in official assurances that Hong Kong is not becoming like the mainland has been rattled by the recent crackdown as Beijing imposed a sweeping new national security on Hong Kong last year, arguing it was needed to return stability.
At the time, Hong Kong’s government said that the law would not impact people’s rights and freedoms but its broad wording and application has since criminalised much dissent and radically transformed the once politically pluralistic city.
Many of Hong Kong’s prominent opposition figures have since been arrested, detained or fled overseas as the city’s formerly raucous legislature has been cleared of opposition politicians who resigned en masse late last year after three of their colleagues were disqualified for their political views.
Since then, the government has fast-tracked a number of laws with limited scrutiny and dissent in the legislature.
Wednesday’s immigration Bill received 39 votes in favour and two against. It was passed shortly after lawmakers approved a budget in record time with just one dissenting vote. (Source: CNA)