An activist in Hong Kong has filed a legal challenge against recent moves by the city's legislature amid a bitter political row over plans to allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects at China's request.
Former civil servant Kwok Cheuk-kin filed a request for a judicial review against Kenneth Chen, who heads the Legislative Council (LegCo)'s administrative arm.
Chen announced last week that Democratic Party lawmaker James To was being replaced at the head of a committee deliberating proposed amendments to Hong Kong's Fugitive Offenders Ordinance after he used filibustering to try to delay passage of the law before the summer recess.
The move was made after Chen sent a circular around to committee members in what opposition lawmakers say was a violation of procedural rules.
According to Kwok, any motion in a circular cannot be passed when a single councillor opposes it, and there were 26 lawmakers who were against the replacement of To with Abraham Shek.
The legal challenge came as 14 lawmakers gathered in protest outside the office of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, shouting: "We want a dialogue with Carrie Lam! Down with the evil law!"
Last month, thousands of people took to the streets in protest at the law, which will allow the Hong Kong government to grant extradition requests on a case-by-case basis with no judicial oversight to countries with which it lacks an extradition treaty.
The most likely jurisdiction to use the proposed provision is the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which currently has no extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
'An adverse impact'
Hong Kong's International Chamber of Commerce recently wrote to LegCo members hitting out at Lam's administration for failing to engage in meaningful consultation on the proposed changes, which it said would have an "adverse impact on Hong Kong as a place to live and work."
Former pro-democracy student leader and ousted lawmaker Nathan Law agreed.
"This law will have an irreversible impact on Hong Kong's autonomy," he said. "It has been more than 20 years since the handover to China, and yet Hong Kong has never discussed extradition arrangements with China because China does not have fair trials and lacks a legal system that is in line with international standards."
"Chinese President Xi Jinping once said publicly that China does not follow the path of judicial independence, and the court trials must obey the leadership of the party," Law said. "This is unacceptable to a common law jurisdiction that operates in the spirit of judicial independence."
Hong Kong's judiciary currently ranks 16th in the world for fairness, while China's ranks below 80, he said. "That is a huge gap," Law said.
Law warned that foreign nationals traveling to Hong Kong would also be affected if the law passes, pointing to recent cross-border abductions and detentions of five Hong Kong-based booksellers.
Under the terms of the 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms of the press and of speech and association, as well as an independent judiciary and separate legal system, under the "one country, two systems" framework that has sheltered peaceful critics of Beijing until now.
In Washington, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held a hearing on Tuesday to examine the erosion of Hong Kong's freedom and autonomy in recent years.
"There are serious concerns that Hong Kong’s autonomy and its guaranteed freedoms are being eroded by increasing interference from the Chinese Government in Hong Kong affairs," the CECC said on its website.
"Equally alarming are the proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition laws which, if passed, will allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China, where the criminal justice system is regularly used as a tool of repression against political dissenters and rights advocates," it said.
"The Hong Kong government appears to be working closely with, or reflecting the interests of, the mainland Chinese government."
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has also warned that China's justice system has a record of arbitrary detention, torture, and other ill-treatment, of serious violations of fair trial rights, and of various systems of incommunicado detention without trial.
The amendments being proposed in Hong Kong would heighten the risk for human rights activists and others critical of China being extradited to the mainland for trial on fabricated charges, and would be a "devastating blow" to the city's freedoms, it said in a recent report.
Reported by Shi Shan and Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lau Siu-fung and Lee Wang-yam for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.