US sounds alarm over Hong Kong 'exit ban' fears

29 April, 2021
US sounds alarm over Hong Kong 'exit ban' fears
The United States said on Thursday (Apr 29) it had been "deeply concerned" by a fresh Hong Kong immigration law which include powers to stop persons leaving the city, raising fears Chinese mainland-style exit bans could possibly be deployed there.

The law was offered Wednesday by a city legislature now devoid of opposition, as Beijing seeks to quash dissent and make the semi-autonomous city more like the authoritarian mainland following huge and frequently violent democracy protests.

It grants the immigration chief powers to bar persons from boarding planes to and from the town.

"We know about this legislation and share widespread concerns in Hong Kong about its content, potential uses, and lack of oversight or accountability," circumstances Department spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.

"We have long standing concerns about the PRC's arbitrary make use of exit bans without due procedure for law, including against American citizens. We are deeply concerned by the chance of Hong Kong authorities adopting similar arbitrary measures," the spokesperson added.

Hong Kong's government says regulations will not be applied to people leaving metropolis and is targeted at stopping illegal immigrants travelling to the business hub.

However the wording of the bill will not limit the energy to arriving flights or immigrants and legal authorities say it could also be deployed against anyone leaving Hong Kong.

In a potential recognition of those concerns, Hong Kong's government late on Wednesday said it would draft subsidiary legislation specifying that regulations would only be applied to inbound flights.

The US statement urged the Hong Kong government to honour this "public commitment" never to utilize the law "as a pretext to deny boarding for outbound passengers".

Britain's Foreign Office also issued a short statement.

"The right of individuals to leave Hong Kong is guaranteed under the Basic Law and really should be upheld," a spokesperson said, discussing the city's post-handover mini-constitution.

So-called "exit bans" are often utilized by mainland China against activists who challenge authorities. They also have ensnared business figures involved with commercial disputes.

Local activists and legal representatives from Hong Kong's influential Bar Association warn the bill gives "apparently unfettered power" to the immigration director to accomplish the same, as long as they wish to.

Beijing imposed a sweeping new national security on Hong Kong this past year. Authorities said it could not impact people's freedoms and only affect "a tiny minority".

But its broad wording and application has since criminalised much dissent and radically transformed the once politically pluralistic city.

A lot of Hong Kong's prominent pro-democracy figures have since been arrested, detained or fled overseas.