The United States government has previously denounced such bans as “coercive,” saying they are used “to compel US citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations, to lure individuals back to China from abroad, and to aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.”
“China has always protected the safety and legitimate rights and interests of foreigners in China in accordance with the law,” the ministry said.
Lee said that the new powers introduced under the law would be applied only to inbound flights — preventing people from entering rather than leaving the city — and be used to target illegal immigrants.
However, activists and lawyers contest that the legislation does not adequately differentiate between inbound and outbound travelers, and argue that it could be used against people trying to leave Hong Kong.
“If you can stop a Hong Kong citizen from boarding an inbound flight, meaning that anyone who’s left Hong Kong cannot come back, that’s also a very worrying situation, right?” said Chow. “So, just by limiting this to inbound flights doesn’t really allay our concern,” she added.
Looking for an exit
Since the passage of a national security law last year which banned secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers, there has been a concerted crackdown on the Hong Kong opposition, with almost every prominent activist and former lawmaker currently facing prosecution.
Prosecutors were already able to request that courts confiscate the travel documents of defendants believed to be a flight risk, but activists and lawyers argue the new law could potentially make it far easier to bar anyone from leaving Hong Kong, and could also enable the immigration director to issue exit bans against people not facing any charges.
While Hong Kong has additional constitutional protections not available in mainland China, the potential for such exit bans, particularly against foreign citizens, could raise alarm within the business community, which has so far weathered the decline in the city’s freedoms without too much protest.
“Cynthia and Victor are two promising young people have had their lives put on hold while being forced to remain in a country where they face regular surveillance, harassment, and threats from Chinese authorities,” Markey said. “This legislation will hold accountable those Chinese authorities who participate in this sinister practice.”