Members of Parliament were warned on Thursday that sweeping national security legislation in Hong Kong jeopardizes 300,000 Canadians who live in the former British colony, and to prepare for the possibility that China might prevent some from leaving.
A new cadre of “secret police” empowered by the June 30 law can arrest Canadians living in Hong Kong, witnesses told MPs on the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations.
The Beijing-drafted national security law makes what China broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces punishable by as much as life in prison.
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The MPs were also cautioned that any member of the committee – or any Canadian – could be charged under the new law, which is worldwide in scope. China has extradition agreements with more than 35 countries.
Witnesses included Samuel Chu, a U.S. activist who was charged under the new law even though he lives in the United States. Chinese state media reported last last month that arrest warrants had been issued for him and five other overseas pro-democracy activists, including Nathan Law, who has fled Hong Kong for London.
“Every provision of the national security law applies to everyone outside of Hong Kong,” Mr. Chu told the committee, which is holding hearings on the law.
“Nobody is beyond its reach; not me, an American living on U.S. soil, and not the 300,000 Canadians living and working in Hong Kong itself.”
Mr. Chu noted that several Hong Kongers have been charged under the law in connection with posts they made on social media.
He said he now must avoid countries that have extradition treaties with China or even just friendly relations. And he must prevent family members being drawn into this.
“I cannot speak to my elderly parents in Hong Kong without opening them up, or subjecting them, to investigation and invasive searches by the police,” he said.
Michael Davis, a former law professor at the University of Hong Kong, told the MPs Article 38 of the new legislation says the law applies not only in Hong Kong but to offences “committed outside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ... by a person who is not a permanent resident of the region.”
He told MPs that merely talking in hearings with a witness who calls for sanctions against Hong Kong, for instance – or, as the law says “provokes ... hatred” towards the Chinese government – is grounds for charges.
“Unfortunately, this committee could also be tarred with that,” said Prof. Davis, who is a global fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington and a senior research scholar with the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University.
“If we actually advocate sanctions at this moment, we could be charged under the law regardless of the fact we are exercising our freedom of expression.”
Prof. Davis said the law empowers officials from China’s state security and public security bureaus – whom he called “secret police” -- to operate in Hong Kong and seize suspects.
“Under this new law .. if these security officials from the mainland want to, they can take you, render you, to the mainland for trial. So Hong Kongers or foreigners in Hong Kong, including Canadians, if they are arrested under this law, and the mainland officials decide they want to bring you to China, they can do so.”
Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at Freedom House, a U.S.-based rights watchdog, warned MPs that the new freedom for Chinese security officials could mean that some of the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong may fall victim to politically motivated arrests more common in mainland China. While most Canadians know of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were incarcerated in China in apparent act of retaliation, other cases are not as high-profile.
“Perhaps less well-known is the case of Sun Qian, a Canadian citizen and businesswoman just sentenced in Beijing to eight years in prison for being a Falun Gong practitioner. It is possible these types of arrests could also occur in Hong Kong,” Ms. Boyajian said.
She and Benedict Rogers, a human rights activist who is co-founder and chair of Hong Kong Watch, told MPs that Canadians, particularly those with ties to dissidents, could be stopped from leaving Hong Kong. Authorities have already threatened not to recognize passport documents the U.K. is giving to residents.
“There is certainly a risk that China will threaten to do this, which is why Canada should move quickly to help people while they are still able to leave,” Mr. Rogers said.
Asked if it’s planning to evacuate or repatriate Canadians who live in Hong Kong, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the government is prepared to help citizens return home.
“When it comes to the estimated 300,000 Canadians who reside in Hong Kong, the government will continue to provide consular assistance, and stands ready to help any Canadians who wish to return do so,” press secretary Syrine Khoury said in an e-mailed statement.
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