The public hearing held at the Czech Chamber of Deputies under the auspices of Eva Decroix MP and Senator Pavel Fischer led to a single clear-cut conclusion: if there is a (political) will, there is a way.
Held on Monday, September 5th, following opening remarks by Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky and Sinposis’ Martin Hala, Safeguard Defenders focused its presentation on the legal contours of the question to suspend the Czech bilateral extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Countering arguments made by officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, Safeguard Defenders’ Laura Harth exposed how:
The unilateral imposition of the National Security Law by Beijing authorities constitutes a fundamental and unforeseeable change in circumstances, in breach of the agreement under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, that radically changes the Czech’s Republic obligations under the treaty as evidenced by the European Council’s conclusions of 24 July 2020 and subsequent actions by allied Nations. Maintaining the extradition treaty legitimizes and helps enforce the illegal extra-territorial aspects of the National Security Law;
The National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 directly exposes individuals to a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights by explicitly importing mainland judicial and investigative powers under Chapter V of the NSL, rendering extradition to Hong Kong counter to fundamental constitutional and international principles, in particular the ius cogens principle of non-refoulement;
The existence of an active bilateral extradition treaty has a direct and grave negative impact the enjoyment of freedom of movement, expression and assembly as guaranteed, among others, by the Czech constitutional order, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the EU Convention on Human Rights and – within the EU framework – the Schengen Treaty;
Given the Czech Republic has so far not requested a single extradition from Hong Kong under the treaty, the potential risk of not being able to do so in the future is not proportionate to the direct, demonstrable and existing detrimental impact of the extradition treaty on fundamental freedoms and basic rights;
The maintenance of the bilateral extradition treaty between the Czech Republic and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region run counter to the interests of the Czech Republic and is in conflict with the constitutional order of the Czech Republic or with a principle of the legal order of the Czech Republic that must be insisted upon without reservation.
Remarks by Hong Kong exiled activists Simon Cheng, Finn Lau, Samuel Chu and Iverson Ng further drove home the urgency of the issue at hand, in evidencing their personal experiences of persecution by Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities both at home and abroad. Their personal testimony is further proof of how the conclusions from Safeguard Defenders' investigation into Hong Kong's global policing of critics have already come true. With frequent news reports of arrest warrants for noted dissenters, they also highlighted how - unlike them - many Hong Kongers choose to avoid the risk of persecution by adopting the exact approach of silence the NSL sought to impose on them.
This global chilling effect is severely undermining the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Czech Constitution and European Treaties. The Czech Republic’s failure to suspend the extradition treaty plays right into the hands of the PRC and Hong Kong authorities.
A country which Constitutional Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms grants every citizen the right “to resist anybody who would do away with the democratic order of human rights and fundamental freedoms, established by the Charter, if the work of the constitutional organs and an effective use of legal means are frustrated”, cannot and should not continue to enable the fearmongering tactics of a regime that has done away with the most basic principles of such a democratic order, but rather protect the rights of those standing firm against it.
The hearing clearly impacted the officials present, who in conclusion had to admit their initial legal arguments to withhold on suspending the treaty had been rebuffed. As Eva Decroix MP summarized: this is first and foremost a question of mere political will. She added that the testimonies rendered made the urgency of the question crystal clear and vowed to continue the parliamentary campaign for suspension. Senator Pavel Fischer added that the issue may soon be brought back to the Senate floor as well, which has previously expressed itself in favor of suspension.
At the Summit for Democracy of December 2021, the Czech Republic made the solemn pledge to speak out consistently in support of civil society, push back against the shrinking of civic space and provide practical and moral support to human rights defenders, as well as promote accountability for human rights violations.
Following the hearing and the release of the UNHCHR’s Office assessment of the situation in Xinjiang, surely one very concrete and impactful way for the Czech Republic to uphold both commitments then by suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and bring the question of suspension of all extradition treaties with Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China back to the table of the EU Council it currently presides.
See Safeguard Defenders 2-page factsheet (PDF) on Extraditions and China here