The Hong Kong Bar Association has slammed the city’s government for seeking “apparently unfettered power” through planned changes to the immigration law that would give officials the right to prevent certain people from leaving Hong Kong.
The HKBA’s opinion, published in an article on Friday, targets the government’s plan to give the Director of Immigration access to airline passenger lists and enable officials to prevent certain passengers or aircrew members from leaving or entering the city.
The government’s planned legal changes, announced last month, has sparked fears that authorities may prevent pro-democracy activists from leaving the city, following the crackdown in Hong Kong under the national security law imposed in June last year.
A number of pro-democracy activists have already fled the city over such fears, choosing self-imposed exile, including ex-lawmakers Nathan Lau and Ted Hui, and anti-government protesters Sunny Cheung and Brian Leung.
The bar association’s article criticized the draft bill for failing to provide any valid reason for giving such powers to the Director of Immigration. Nor does the bill have provisions to prevent the abuse of such powers, it said. This attempt to gain “apparently unfettered power” is causing fears among the public, the HKBA said.
Officials should only be allowed to prevent someone from leaving Hong Kong in cases of national security, public order or public health, the lawyers’ group argued. But the draft exempts the Director of Immigration from having to provide any reasons for such decisions.
If Hong Kong’s legislature is to authorize the executive branch to enact a law that may restrict Hongkongers’ basic rights, then it should clarify the scope of such powers, the HKBA said.
Hong Kong residents’ freedom to emigrate is enshrined in the Basic Law – the city’s mini-constitution– which gives holders of valid travel documents the freedom to leave Hong Kong without special authorization, unless they are specifically restrained by law.
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