A dual Australian-Chinese citizen was denied the right to receive consular services after being arrested for alleged charges of “subversion” in Hong Kong.
The unidentified man remains behind bars after being arrested almost a year ago. Because China does not recognize dual citizenship, the man, who was born in Hong Kong, is being treated as a Chinese national and will “stand trial in accordance with the laws of China.”
After repeated requests that the man be returned to Australia to stand trial, the Australian government — which has had an increasingly strained relationship with Beijing — expressed concerns about “the erosion of basic freedoms and autonomy in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong police said in a statement that authorities in Hong Kong notified the Australian embassy after the individual was arrested on Feb. 28, 2021 and advised him that he was to be charged for “conspiring to subvert state power” and was required to attend West Kowloon magistrates’ court on March 1, 2021.
He was again placed under arrest during this court hearing.
After 11 months: ‘The individual remains in detention’
“Officials from our consulate general have attended the subsequent court hearings,” a spokesperson for The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat) said on Feb. 7.
“However, we have been denied consular access despite multiple attempts and the individual remains in detention because he is deemed to be a Chinese citizen under China’s citizenship laws, which do not recognise dual nationality.”
Australia’s bilateral consular agreement with China, including Hong Kong, only allows access to Australian citizens who entered on an Australian passport.
Dfat added that officials were in “in regular contact” with the detained man’s lawyers and would “continue to attend future court hearings”, the spokesperson said.
“Australia and many other countries have expressed concern about the erosion of basic freedoms and autonomy in Hong Kong and have called on Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to abide by their human rights obligations,” the department added.
“The Hong Kong National Security Law could be interpreted broadly and therefore result in detention that is arbitrary or lacks transparency as well as the removal of basic individual rights.”
National security law wreaks havoc on Hong Kong’s civil liberties
Beijing imposed the far-reaching national security law in Hong Kong in June 2020 in response to months of pro-democracy protests in 2019, sparking accusations from activists and human rights groups that China was attacking rights and freedoms it previously guaranteed as part of Hong Kong’s handover from Great Britain in 1997.
In addition, the national security law mandates a maximum of life imprisonment for speaking out against the Chinese regime or other expressions “deemed dangerous.”
Experts believe the law contradicted the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration – whereby China promised to guarantee Hong Kong’s civil liberties for at least 50 years after the UK returned the city back to Chinese sovereignty.
Since this law was enacted, more than 160 people have been arrested, including activists and journalists from pro-democracy news outlets.
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South Australian senator Rex Patrick, who first inquired about the matter with Australia’s senate in October, said he held “grave concerns for this individual, along with the others being held in arbitrary detention by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”
“His arrest highlights the plight of the more than 100 Hongkongers that have been arrested and charged since the CCP’s repression of Hong Kong began,” Patrick said.
Elaine Pearson, director of Human Rights Watch in Australia, also said this latest case was “worrying” as the Chinese regime attempts to exert its authoritarian control over Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong’s draconian national security law is a roadmap for repression – it criminalizes all sorts of peaceful activism and criticism that is usually unremarkable in a democracy,” Pearson said.
“We are deeply concerned about every person being prosecuted under the national security law, and it’s worrying to see even an Australian dual citizen facing charges of subversion,” she added.