West sounds alarm over consular access in HK - RTHK
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West sounds alarm over consular access in HK

2021-02-04 HKT 15:55
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  • Around 20 percent of the 7,000 people in custody in Hong Kong at the end of 2019 were classified as foreigners. File image: Shutterstock
    Around 20 percent of the 7,000 people in custody in Hong Kong at the end of 2019 were classified as foreigners. File image: Shutterstock
Canada, Britain and the United States have expressed alarm after Ottawa revealed that authorities in Hong Kong forced a dual citizen to choose one nationality, enforcing what they said was a little-used regulation for the first time in decades.

Canada's foreign affairs department said this week that a dual-national in prison in Hong Kong was required to make a declaration of nationality on January 18.

"We are aware of more such incidences involving dual nationals of other countries," a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson said.

The revelation has sent diplomats scrambling for more information given the potential implications for hundreds of thousands of dual nationals living in Hong Kong, as well as visitors.

Diplomats say they faced few problems accessing dual nationals in custody in the past.

That appears to have changed as Beijing clashes with Western nations over its crackdown in Hong Kong following the protests in 2019.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were also aware of more examples than the single case Canada went public with.

In response to enquiries, a State Department spokesman said Washington had "deep concerns that this new Hong Kong policy will compel people to declare their citizenship under duress and without an opportunity to understand the full implications of the declaration".

The spokesperson said their diplomats would continue to seek access "to any US citizen arrested in Hong Kong, regardless of their categorisation by the Hong Kong government".

A spokesperson for the British consulate said the UK was "seeking answers from the Hong Kong authorities following the suggestion that they may withdraw our consular access to dual national prisoners and prevent us providing the support we have given since 1997", the year of the handover.

The Correctional Services Department declined to comment on whether it had begun demanding people in prison choose a single nationality or had restricted consular access.

The Security Bureau cited China's nationality laws to explain why consular visits might be rejected.

While residents are allowed to have more than one passport, those of Chinese descent are considered Chinese nationals inside Chinese territories, which includes Hong Kong, the bureau said.

It did not address why the regulations were only being enforced now.

The new policy appears to put Hong Kong more closely in line with the mainland, where authorities forbid dual citizenship.

There are an estimated 300,000 Canadian, 100,000 Australian and 85,000 American passport holders in the SAR alone. Many of those are dual nationals with Hong Kong passports.

Richard Kurland, a Canadian immigration lawyer, said the policy change had profound implications.

"The change in policy is tangible, has immediate effect, and affects hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Official statistics show some 7,000 people were in custody at the end of 2019 with around 20 percent classified as foreigners. (AFP)