Hong Kong’s government passed an immigration bill that raises concern it could be used to prevent dissidents from leaving the city.
The bill passed Wednesday will expedite the handling of refugees, including speeding up the repatriation of claimants who have already been rejected and reducing the number of illegal non-ethnically Chinese immigrants and those who have overstayed their visas. The legislation, which takes effect on Aug. 1, includes a provision that would allow the city’s immigration director to get information about any passengers or crew members boarding a flight.
The Hong Kong Bar Association expressed concern in February that the move could give “unfettered power” to impose a travel ban and called on the government to amend the clause to make clear that it would not apply to Hong Kong residents.
The government has dismissed the worries as “complete nonsense,” saying that the law is aimed at tackling the surge in refugee claims in recent years and denied it will have any impact on locals’ ability to leave or enter the Asian financial center.
Neither the Hong Kong Bar Association nor the government immediately responded to a request for comment Thursday.
While the law does not give the government the specific power to stop Hong Kong residents from leaving the city, lawyer Michael Vidler said the lack of debate before its passage has fed suspicions about how it will be used.
“Any legislation which has been pushed through without there being proper consultation or consideration and review in light of the input by civil society is usually going to be problematic,” he said.
China has tightened its political grip over Hong Kong following historic and sometimes-violent protests in 2019 through measures including the imposition of a national security law last year.
Last month, Beijing signed orders to amend the city’s Basic Law to ensure that central leaders would control the outcome of Hong Kong’s elections, a move that has been condemned by the U.S., U.K., Japan and the European Union.
The local government has also pursued a flood of cases against high-profile dissidents. Earlier this month Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison for attending unauthorized protests and also charged with more national security offenses.
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