Washington has raised concerns over a newly passed Hong Kong immigration law that may be used to ban Hongkongers from leaving the city.
The law was passed on Wednesday by the Legislative Council as most opposition lawmakers have resigned. Under the law, the Director of Immigration is now authorized to bar people from boarding planes to and from the city.
“We are aware of this legislation and share widespread concerns in Hong Kong about its content, potential uses, and lack of oversight or accountability,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.
“We have long standing concerns about the PRC’s arbitrary use of exit bans without due process of law, including against American citizens. We are deeply concerned by the prospect of Hong Kong authorities adopting similar arbitrary measures,” the spokesperson added.
The Hong Kong government had defended the law saying that it would not be applied to people leaving the city, as it was aimed at stopping undocumented migrants. However, the law did not include provisions that stated the government’s claim.
Washington also urged the Hong Kong government to honor this “public commitment” to not use the law “as a pretext to deny boarding for outbound passengers.”
Britain’s Foreign Office also issued a statement saying that “the right of people to leave Hong Kong is guaranteed under the Basic Law and should be upheld.”
The Hong Kong government would not need a court order to block anyone from entering or leaving Hong Kong under the law, and no appeal was allowed, as democrats, lawyers and business figures have raised concerns, Agence France-Presse reported.
“Exit bans” were often used by mainland China against activists who challenge authorities, as well as business figures involved in commercial disputes, the report said.
Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board said in a commentary on Wednesday that the law has marked another step in Hong Kong’s descent.
The law expands the ambit of exit control beyond the national security law, as millions of Hongkongers who participated in the pro-democracy protests have reason to fear they would be trapped, it said.
The language of the law was ambiguous enough to worry foreigners working in the city, it added, and accused Beijing of installing the door locks to avoid the embarrassment of a Hong Kong exodus to the United Kingdom.
This brain drain was a tragedy for Hong Kong, but it was no surprise that the same people who fought for their freedom in 2019 were now willing to flee for it as Beijing tightened its control, it said. The U.S. should follow Britain’s lead and welcome Hong Kong’s refugees, it added.