Expanding Reach: Hong Kong's Bounty System and Its Impact on Dissidents Abroad


Hong Kong's Bounty System
Hong Kong's Bounty System



The Hong Kong government has taken steps to suppress political dissent beyond its borders. It has issued arrest warrants for eight pro-democracy figures who are now living in Australia, the US, and the UK. To aid in their capture, bounties of HK$1 million (around A$191,000) have been offered for each individual. The selection of these pro-democracy figures appears symbolic and pragmatic, with a curated list comprising three ex-legislators, three activists, a unionist, and a lawyer. This approach echoes the tactics used in the "Umbrella Nine" trial, which aimed to send a message to troublesome sectors of civil society after the 2014 "Umbrella Movement" protests.

Interestingly, the mugshots of the targeted individuals portray them as intellectual types rather than criminals. The police claim that their "very serious crimes" mainly involve advocating for sanctions to counter political repression in Hong Kong. According to the controversial national security law, these actions are considered "subversion of state power" and can be punishable by life imprisonment.



Hong Kong operates under the "one country, two systems" model as a self-governing region of China. However, the national security law, drafted in Beijing, was imposed on Hong Kong following the 2019 protests. The law asserts jurisdiction over any person, regardless of nationality, who has committed any of its offenses anywhere in the world. Whether the Hong Kong government can realistically bring these individuals to trial is uncertain. Extradition requires the act to be a sufficiently serious crime in both places and must not be a political offense. The warrants in question fail both of these criteria, despite the government's claims about national security.

 

Extradition is guided by bilateral agreements between jurisdictions. Many Western countries, including the UK, US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, suspended their extradition agreements with Hong Kong after the imposition of the national security law due to concerns about the politicization of the criminal justice system. The pro-democracy figures targeted this week were aware of the changing circumstances in Hong Kong when they left. They may never return, and they may also need to reconsider their travel to jurisdictions that maintain extradition agreements with Hong Kong or China.

There are risks beyond formal arrest and extradition. The bounties offered may encourage vigilantism, and sympathetic governments might turn a blind eye to or even facilitate the extra-legal rendition of these activists. Past cases, such as the disappearance of Hong Kong booksellers who later confessed to crimes in China, serve as examples of such risks. Beijing has long been bothered by the existence of overseas dissidents, and in recent years, it has become more determined to monitor and influence the overseas Chinese diaspora. Secret "overseas police offices" have been established in Europe, North America, and elsewhere to gather information and harass individuals.



Over the past decade, the political distinction between China and Hong Kong has eroded. Hong Kong's democratic elements have been stripped away, and its national security and law enforcement apparatus are now dictated by mainland China. The government in Hong Kong tries to cloak its actions in a veneer of law and legal process, but its pursuit of authoritarian goals is increasingly apparent. Repressive reforms in the legal, political, education, and media sectors have brought Hong Kong's civil society under control. These new arrest warrants are a clear indication that China will continue attempting to silence its critics as long as they dare to speak out. While these warrants may ultimately prove futile, we must condemn the intentions behind them as they pose a threat to the fundamental freedoms of our democratic society.

Muzammil Online

Introducing Muzammil, a software engineering student at Mehran UET with a passion for blog writing and technology. With a thirst for knowledge and a love for exploring the digital realm, Muzammil is set to make a mark in the world of tech through insightful blog content.

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