On April 28 the Hong Kong government passed an Immigration Amendment Bill that allows the Secretary for Security to bar a passenger or a member of the crew from boarding a carrier.

Critics argue that the new law amendment is excessively broad and vague, and that it empowers the government to arbitrarily prevent citizens from leaving the territory for political reasons.

This month the Canadian government updated its official global travel advisories to include a warning about the new Hong Kong law which came into force on August 1.

“Hong Kong authorities may prevent specific individuals from leaving the territory,” the Canadian government states. “In the absence of clarifying legislation, these new powers may relate to investigations into an individual, their family or an employer, and criminal and civil matters.”

Canada’s authorities point out that investigations may include charges under the National Security Law (NSL) introduced in June of last year.

“Activities considered as national security violations are broadly and vaguely defined,” the advisory explains. “They could include activities that are not considered illegal in Canada and that occurred outside of Hong Kong. You risk being arbitrarily detained on national security grounds, even while you are transiting through Hong Kong. You could be subject to transfer to mainland China for prosecution. Penalties are severe and include life imprisonment.”

The Chinese government may also “ban or sanction entities or individuals for actions, including oral or written statements, and associations with entities that are critical” of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government, Chinese leaders and policies.

In February the Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) criticized the amendment in a paper submitted to the Legislative Council, arguing that its “provisions would result in arbitrary and unjustified immigration detention in circumstances that are incompatible with fundamental human rights and long-standing common law principles.”

The Hong Kong government has dismissed the allegations, claiming that the “right of Hong Kong residents to enter or leave Hong Kong is not affected” by the law.

In an April 21 statement, Hong Kong’s Security Bureau “strongly condemned individual organisations’ deliberate dissemination of false information and intentional misinterpretation of the provision’s legislative purpose and background, which attempted to spread rumours, mislead the public, as well as smear the legislative process.”

Since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013, “rumour-mongering” has become a catch-all phrase used to silence critics of the Communist Party. In September of that year, the Chinese government criminalized “online rumours” and launched a sweeping crackdown on internet speech.

In June 2020, Hong Kong’s Communist Party-appointed Chief Executive Carrie Lam claimed that the NSL “will only target an extremely small minority of people who have breached the law, while the life and property, basic rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong residents will be protected.”

One year later, over 100 people were arrested for violating the NSL and over 10,000 were arrested for their involvement in the 2019 protests, according to Human Rights Watch. Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy media company was forced to shut down. Thousands of people have been leaving the city.

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