The European Arrest Warrant Makes a Mockery of Hong Kong’s Protests

Imagine if in Spain it was impossible to arrest and transport a criminal residing in Barcelona to Madrid in order to face charges for a serious offence committed in the Spanish capital? Imagine also if a man who committed a murder in London could not be arrested and sent to the British capital after feeling to Edinburgh in a devolved Scotland which remains part of the United Kingdom? Imagine then being a British citizen of Greek Cypriot background called Andrew Symeou. Symeou has never been convicted of any crime and did nothing that brought him to the attention of British authorities.

However, in 2009 Symeou was issued a European Arrest Warrant from Greece and was subsequently extradited to the Hellenic Republic. In a normal situation, Britain would have never extradited Symeou as the Greek side failed to provide adequate evidence that the British citizen murdered a man called Jonathan Hiles in a Greek discotheque. But the normal practices of British law were thrown out the window due to something called the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). As part of the European Union’s drive to “harmonise” law enforcement, the EAW has been brought into place. The EAW allows EU states to request the immediate extradition of residents of another EU state without having to provide the evidence that would normally be necessary in such matters.

Politicians and campaigners in Europe have criticised the EAW for being overly broad, being enforced arbitrarily and failing to take into account basic protections of individuals from systematic harassment from foreign counties, including those in Europe whose development lags behind the wealthier members of the EU.

Indeed, the globally known political prisoner Julian Assange sought shelter in the Ecuadorian Embassy due to Sweden’s deeply controversial use of the EAW to seek an extradition of the UK based Australian citizen over a matter that even if true would neither have been a crime in Britain nor in Australia.

How bitterly ironic is it that whilst countries with completely different traditions, histories and levels of development can effectively judicially kidnap citizens of other states by virtue of shared EU membership, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China has experienced protests because of new proposals which would allow criminals resident in Hong Kong to be brought to mainland China in order to face criminal charges in the appropriate jurisdiction.

At present, criminals wanted by police in mainland China can run to Hong Kong in order to escape justice. Although Hong Kong reunited with China in 1997, the one country – two systems model continues to see Hong Kong experiencing a great deal of socio-political autonomy. Furthermore, the new proposals would only apply when an act that is a criminal offence in parts of China other than Hong Kong is also a criminal offence in Hong Kong. Finally, even when this strict and transparent test is met, the final decision as to weather to transport a criminal outside of Hong Kong to another part of China would rest entirely in the hands of judges in Hong Kong itself.

When it comes to the issue of law enforcement within a single country, it beggars belief that criminals living in one part of China cannot be transported to another part of China to face a lawful trial whilst citizens of supposedly sovereign European states can be extradited with virtually no questions asked to fellow EU nation states. This is the case even thought the standards of justice of many EU nations are notably less transparent and less fair than those of more highly developed European nations.

It appears that China’s one country – two systems model is far more respectful of Hong Kong’s unique regional characteristics than the European Union is respectful of the differences between its supposedly sovereign member states.

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