On Wednesday, the Hong Kong government amended the city’s immigration laws to allow security chiefs to prohibit passengers from using any mode of transportation in or out of the city.
Concerns have been raised that the amended law will be used to prevent people from fleeing in the midst of an ever-increasing crackdown on public dissent and peaceful political opposition.
The Immigration Ordinance amendment was approved by a Legislative Council (LegCo) devoid of opposition members, who resigned en masse in December 2020 in protest of the expulsion of four of their colleagues.
Dozens of former LegCo members have been arrested in recent months, either for public order offenses related 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) on July 1, 2020.
The amendment was approved by a vote of 39 to two, according to journalism student Christina Chan’s Twitter account.
The government has billed the amended bill, which goes into effect on August 1, as a crackdown on asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.
However, it also contains a provision that allows border guards to prevent a person from boarding a flight or other mode of transportation out of the city, paving the way for exit bans on any of Hong Kong’s seven million residents or even visiting foreign nationals.
According to copies of the draft amendments posted online by the government, 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.”
The authorities will also set up an advanced passenger information system, which will send data from people arriving in the city to the immigration department for vetting, making it easier for people to be denied entry or detained upon arrival.
Residents already believe the city’s airport is being watched by national security officers after Youtuber Bob’s Your Uncle filmed a group of unidentified people with no luggage loitering in the departure hall and watching passengers board their flights in January.
The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) had requested in February that the Bill be amended to reflect that the Secretary of Security’s powers (via the Director of Immigration) did not include prohibiting someone from boarding a flight or other mode of transportation leaving Hong Kong.
However, the bill was eventually passed into law without such an amendment.
According to the HKBA, the law “could have the effect of prohibiting Hong Kong residents from boarding an aircraft or any other mode of transportation either arriving in or departing from Hong Kong.”
The HKBA was singled out for criticism by Beijing’s Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong, which labeled its chairman, Paul Harris, an “anti-China politician” whose tenure made the organization “a mockery.”
Harris has also questioned the national security law, as well as the conviction of ten veteran pro-democracy activists for peaceful protests in 2019.
Carrie Lam, the company’s CEO, stated that there was no need to take action against Harris “for the time being.”
“Of course, the government will be called into action if there are instances or complaints about the bar not acting in accordance with Hong Kong law,” she told journalists.
Meanwhile, the HKBA has announced that it will investigate members and veteran pro-democracy politicians Margaret Ng and Martin Lee, who were convicted of participating in an “illegal assembly” on August 18, 2019.
“The matter of the two members’ convictions has been brought to the attention of the Bar Council, which is conducting an investigation,” it said in a statement to the Hong Kong Free Press.