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Thursday, October 29, 2020, 10:29
Criminal fugitives: Let justice triumph over politicking
By Grenville Cross
Thursday, October 29, 2020, 10:29 By Grenville Cross

On Aug 23, the China Coast Guard intercepted a speedboat in Shenzhen waters, which had 12 criminal fugitives from Hong Kong on board. They were apparently trying to flee to Taiwan, where they would have sought refuge, albeit temporarily. In recent times, suspects accused of having committed violent crimes in Hong Kong have found safe haven in places like Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, all of which have recently suspended their fugitive surrender agreements with Hong Kong.

The 12 fugitives, aged 16 to 33, face an array of criminal charges in Hong Kong, with most having been placed on court bail until trial, and one being on police bail. Those on court bail face various charges, including arson, making and possessing explosives, and conspiracy to wound with intent, while the other was under investigation for unlawfully colluding with foreign powers. By any yardstick, these are very grave offenses, and the incentive to escape was obvious, particularly given the absence of stringent bail terms. If convicted, they will face severe sentences, not least in relation to the explosives offenses, and everybody who values the rule of law will be grateful that they have not managed to cheat justice.

On Sept 30, the people’s procuratorate of Yantian district, Shenzhen, approved the prosecution of the 12 suspects for either illegal border crossing, which is punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment, or organizing an illegal crossing, which carries up to seven years’ imprisonment. As these offenses occurred within the territorial waters of the Chinese mainland, that is where they will be adjudicated.

Only after those proceedings have concluded, and any sentences served, can there be any question of the fugitives being returned to Hong Kong for their original trials. International law recognizes that suspects should, wherever possible, be tried for the offenses they have committed in the place where they occurred and where they are caught. The 12 fugitives face two sets of proceedings, in two distinct jurisdictions, and they must, as is customary, first face justice in relation to the offenses that occurred in the place of arrest.

Instead, however, of congratulating the Chinese authorities on catching the fugitives, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, once again saw an opportunity for mischief-making. On Sept 11, he claimed to be “deeply concerned” over the arrests of what he called “democracy activists”, hoping thereby to confer legitimacy on people accused of heinous crimes. Although the offenses involve threats to life and limb, he unscrupulously sought to engender sympathy for the suspects, thus raising the hopes of their family members.

On the next day, Sept 12, with Pompeo’s words still ringing in their ears, the relatives of the 12 fugitives held a press conference, at which they called for the return of their family members to Hong Kong. This, of course, was impossible, as Pompeo should have explained, at least until their alleged crimes in Shenzhen have been tried. As their cases are now in the hands of mainland prosecutors, there is no way that anyone in Hong Kong, or elsewhere, can intervene and prevent the criminal justice system from taking its natural course.

After the prosecutions of the fugitives were announced, on Sept 30, the families were said to be “shocked and concerned”, although by then it was too late. If, at the very outset, they had taken firm steps to prevent the fugitives from breaching their bail terms and trying to flee, this situation could have been avoided. However, this did not happen, and it is too late now to cry over spilled milk. If, moreover, the 12 fugitives had made good their escapes, their relatives in Hong Kong would not have seen them anymore, unless, of course, they were planning to rendezvous with them in foreign parts. At least now they know that, once the mainland proceedings conclude, they can be reunited with the fugitives in Hong Kong, which should provide some comfort.

Apart from Pompeo, Hong Kong Watch, the sinister London-based think tank that whitewashes the excesses of the protest movement and provides a platform for anyone willing to bad-mouth China, has also muscled in on the act. Its founder, the serial fantasist Benedict Rogers, has joined hands with Joey Siu Nam, the City University of Hong Kong student who famously self-destructed on live television when questioned by DW’s Tim Sebastian, by saying they have launched the so-called #save12hkyouths campaign. Their central demand is “the return of the 12 activists immediately to Hong Kong, and, if they are to stand trial, to be tried in Hong Kong courts”, to which the response must be, “Dream on”.

As the Hong Kong courts have no jurisdiction to try the offenses of illegal entry into Shenzhen waters, this is just another stunt. Quite clearly, Rogers did not bother to check if the demand was even legally feasible, and he probably did not care. Although it is not possible, Rogers, who declared on Sept 22 that he hoped to see Pompeo in the White House one day, has, appropriately enough, enlisted support from two other criminal fugitives: Nathan Law Kwun-chung, in the UK, and Ray Wong Toi-yeung, in Germany. The climate-change activist Greta Thunberg has, moreover, also been roped in, and one can only hope that she knows rather more about the climate than she does about the crimes alleged against the 12 fugitives.

Since, moreover, Hong Kong Watch has several tame parliamentarians in its pocket, they have now written to the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, urging him to request his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, “to immediately ensure the return of the 12 activists to Hong Kong”. Prominent among the signatories was none other than Lord (David) Alton, a Hong Kong Watch patron, and the same individual who, earlier this year, participated in an ostensibly objective inquiry into “police brutality” by the Hong Kong Police Force, but which turned out to be a farce.

Researchers discovered that the inquiry, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, of which Alton is a vice-chair, was covertly funded by Stand with Hong Kong, the anti-police group with close ties to the protest movement. Its report, unsurprisingly, was a hatchet job, which defamed the police force, just as SHK had wanted, albeit that Parliament’s reputation was collateral damage. In another fascinating twist, it was also discovered that, prior to joining the inquiry, Alton had accepted a fully funded trip to Hong Kong, from Nov 23-25, paid for by SHK, and the chances are, therefore, that the letter he sent to Raab was actually drafted by SHK, or else by Hong Kong Watch, its alter ego.

The letter-writers told Raab that the detained fugitives had fled because of their fears over the National Security Law, which was pure fabrication, unless perhaps they were mind-readers. He was not, moreover, informed that the fugitives on court bail had been charged with crimes of violence and dealing in explosives, not with any national security offense. Nor was he told that the 12 fugitives cannot be tried in Hong Kong for their alleged illegal entry onto the Chinese mainland, which must be tried in that jurisdiction. If, therefore, Raab writes anything to Wang, it should be to compliment him on the alertness of the China Coast Guard.

On Oct 14, moreover, Pompeo returned to the fray, this time declaring that the 12 fugitives had “committed no crime”, which was extraordinary, as he had not seen the evidence the prosecutors possess. Having said that “America stands with them”, he then failed to say if he would also be standing with the arsonists, looters and rioters facing prosecution in the US for the mayhem of recent months, and whose crimes mirror those of which the 12 fugitives stand accused. Although hypocrisy is now his stock in trade, he might at least try not to make it so glaringly obvious.

What Pompeo and his useful idiots must understand, therefore, is that actions have consequences, that those who commit crimes will be held accountable, and that criminals who break the law in China must expect to face justice. In the United States, as in the United Kingdom, anyone who takes part in grave offenses will be placed on trial, and it is no different in China. Criminal justice must be respected, and politicking by malevolent foreign forces can never be allowed to interfere with the due process of law in any part of China.

The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong SAR.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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