Hong Kong Could Impose Travel Bans on Passengers From Aug. 1
2021-04-28 -- Hong Kong's government amended the city's immigration laws on Wednesday to enable security chiefs to ban passengers from taking any form of transport in or out of the city.
The amended law has sparked concerns that it will be used to prevent people from leaving amid an ever-widening crackdown on public dissent and peaceful political opposition.
The amendment to the Immigration Ordinance was passed in a Legislative Council (LegCo) devoid of opposition members, who resigned en masse in December 2020 in protest over the expulsion of four of their colleagues.
Dozens of former members of the pro-democracy camp in LegCo have been arrested in recent months, either for public order offenses linked to peaceful protests during the 2019 anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement, or under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020.
The amendment passed by 39 votes to two, journalism student Christina Chan said via her Twitter account.
The amended bill, which takes effect from Aug. 1, has been billed by the government as a crackdown on asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants.
But it also includes a clause enabling border guards to prevent a person from boarding a flight or any other form of transportation out of the city, paving the way for exit bans on any of Hong Kong's seven million residents or even on visiting foreign nationals.
The proposed amendment to Section 6A of the existing law will "empower the Director [of Immigration] to direct that a passenger or a member of the crew of a carrier may or may not be carried on board the carrier," according to copies of the draft amendments posted online by the government.
The authorities will also set up an advanced passenger information system that will funnel the data of people arriving in the city to the immigration department for vetting, making it easier for people to be denied entry or detained on arrival.
Residents already believe the city's airport is under routine surveillance by national security police, after Youtuber Bob's Your Uncle filmed a group of unidentified people with no luggage lingering in the departure hall and watching passengers board their flights in January.
The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) had called in February for the Bill to be amended to reflect that the Secretary of Security's powers (via the Director of Immigration) didn't include barring someone from boarding a flight or other form of transport leaving Hong Kong.
But the bill was eventually passed into law with no such amendment in place.
The HKBA's view had been that the law "could have the effect of barring Hong Kong residents from boarding an aircraft or any other means of transportation either coming to or departing from Hong Kong."
The HKBA was itself targeted for criticism by Beijing's Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong, calling its chairman Paul Harris an "anti-China politician" whose tenure made "a mockery" of the association.
Harris has also questioned the national security law, as well as the sentencing of 10 veteran pro-democracy activists for taking part in peaceful protests in 2019.
Chief executive Carrie Lam said there was no need to take action against Harris "for the time being."
"If there are instances or complaints about the bar not acting in accordance with Hong Kong's law, then of course the government will be called into action," she told journalists.
Meanwhile, the HKBA has said it will investigate members and veteran pro-democracy politicians Margaret Ng and Martin Lee after they were convicted of taking part in an "illegal assembly" on Aug. 18, 2019.
"The matter about the convictions of the two members have been drawn to the attention of the Bar Council which is in the course of an investigation into the matter," it said in a statement to the Hong Kong Free Press.
Reported by Chan Yun Nam for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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