Hong Kong has passed a new immigration law that allows city officials to bar people from entering or leaving the global business center, raising concerns that Chinese-style “continental barriers” could be used against activists.
Diplomats, human rights groups and lawyers have warned that the rule of law would give the city’s immigration chief broad powers, who would not have to make a court order banning people from flying from Hong Kong.
City officials have denied the allegations, saying the legislation is aimed at examining illegal immigrants with a large number of asylum applications and will not violate free movement. Officials also said the ban would apply only to flights to Hong Kong.
But the government’s assurances are largely failing in Hong Kong, where many say a special snow in the area has disappeared as the ruling Communist Party of China tightens its grip.
Last year, Beijing enforced a large-scale national security law in Hong Kong criminalizing crimes of undefined sabotage, secession, terrorism, and foreign crimes punishable by life imprisonment.
Authorities continue to defend the law as it is needed to restore stability in the city, where pro-democracy mass protests erupted for months in 2019.
But within ten months of the entry into force of the National Security Act, prominent activists, lawyers, journalists, businessmen were arrested and detained.
Many have fled Hong Kong for fear of persecution, seeking asylum abroad in countries including the UK, the US, Australia and Canada.
Some Hong Kong opposition lawmakers were disqualified last year, while others resigned en masse because there was no other minority in the city legislature to cover up enough bills.
Now proposals, such as the Immigration Act itself, are navigating through the Hong Kong Legislature without challenges.
Exit bans are often used against dissidents in mainland China who challenge the government or pressure people abroad to stop their activities by barring their families from traveling to China.
They also affected foreign nationals, including journalists and businessmen. Irishman Richard O’Haloran has been unable to leave China for more than two years after being embroiled in a legal dispute involving a Chinese owner of a Dubai-based company.