Anyone – including last governor Chris Patten – could be barred from Hong Kong, Carrie Lam says
Chief executive seeks to make clear that immigration matters are under the purview of Hong Kong unless they concern foreign affairs
Hong Kong’s leader on Friday would not rule out former colonial governor Chris Patten being barred from the city, days after a British human rights campaigner was denied entry without an official explanation.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor sought to make clear that immigration matters come under the purview of Hong Kong but that that remit ends when foreign affairs are concerned, when asked about the last governor’s ability to visit the city in the future.
“I can’t exclude any possibility because immigration matters will change depending on the case,” she said on a morning radio programme.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had said he was “very concerned” by the decision on Wednesday to bar Benedict Rogers, a human rights campaigner and deputy chairman of the UK Conservative Party’s human rights commission, who insisted he was on a personal visit to the city. There has been no explanation from any authorities for the reasons behind the refusal.
Rogers earlier said he was launching a group to monitor the city’s affairs, especially on the human rights front.
China’s foreign ministry criticised external interference and said Rogers knew “well enough” of his intentions to meddle in the rule of law and internal affairs of Hong Kong.
Critics have expressed concern that the incident is yet another sign that Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms are slowly being eroded despite the “one country, two systems” framework, in place since the city was handed from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong before the handover, told The Guardian that barring Rogers was disturbing and inexplicable.
“He was travelling on a valid British passport, met all the requirements for a UK citizen visiting Hong Kong and was not told the grounds [on which] he was sent away,” Patten said on Wednesday.
He said he had contacted the UK Foreign Office as well as the British consulate in Hong Kong over Rogers’ case.
Asked on Friday if Patten would be the next one barred, Lam said she could not comment on individual cases, and that Patten had visited the city before.
Lam also sought to clarify misunderstandings that arose after the incident.
Beijing runs Hong Kong’s foreign affairs, says Carrie Lam, after British politician barred from city
“I want to clarify any worries, misunderstandings, that this whole matter of immigration is now being taken over by Central People’s Government. That’s certainly, definitely not the case,” she said.
She declined to reveal why Rogers was denied entry, and reiterated that individual immigration cases should not be discussed in public. She would only say that “decisions of this nature [would] not be taken arbitrarily” and that there “must be clear evidence”.
“Immigration matters under the Basic Law [Hong Kong’s mini-constitution] are under Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. But if immigration matters become matters of foreign affairs, then under the Basic Law, foreign affairs – like defence – are matters for the Central People’s Government,” Lam said.
Lam also dismissed concerns that Beijing was encroaching on the city’s autonomy.
“I think that is undue worry. Every day in every jurisdiction, there are these sorts of cases,” she said.
Her handling of the Rogers incident, as well as her comments on the radio, drew criticism from opposition lawmakers.
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, a barrister, slammed Lam for interpreting what should have been purely the city’s internal immigration policies as foreign affairs – which he said had dealt a huge blow to Hong Kong.
“It raises concerns around the world that in future those who has any concerns on Hong Kong … would be under threat that they would be declined entry of Hong Kong,” he said. “This is something that we have never seen before.”
Yeung said the government should not ban anyone on the grounds of foreign affairs if the nature of his or her visit was private.
His party colleague Dennis Kwok, a representative of the legal sector in the Legislative Council, also questioned whether the government would bar a group of US congressmen who were expected to visit next week.
Professor Simon Young, associate dean at University of Hong Kong’s law school, said the immigration policy was under the purview of the Hong Kong government under the Article 154 of the Basic Law. However, the central government would have the authority to direct the city’s officials on how to proceed if the person raised an issue of “foreign affairs”, because of his or her foreign political status or otherwise.
“In this case, it must be because of the political status of the visitor and possibly the official character of his visit that the central government deemed the visit to be a matter of ‘foreign affairs’ thereby invoking its authority to direct the HK government to bar the visit,” he said, adding it was primarily for Beijing to determine when the person raises an issue of foreign affairs.
Executive Councillor and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the city’s former security chief, said the city’s immigration officers could deny a person’s entry if information shows he is not an “ordinary visitor”, adding it was up to the officers’ discretion on whether to allow or deny entry.
With additional reporting by Jeffie Lam and Tony Cheung