Extraterritorial reach of National Security Law demonstrated by arrest of Hong Kong student studying in Japan

In March 2023, a Hong Kong student studying at a Japanese university was arrested on a visit back to Hong Kong for allegedly “inciting secession”. The arrest was based on online comments about Hong Kong’s independence which the student had made two years ago when she was in Japan. Her passport was confiscated by Hong Kong police, preventing her from returning to Japan to continue her studies.

The case was first reported by Tomoko Ako, a sociology and China studies professor at the University of Tokyo, who expressed concern over the Hong Kong student’s arrest. The arrest highlights the extraterritorial reach of the NSL, which is capable of ensnaring anyone whether within or outside Hong Kong.

The student is believed to be the first person apprehended under the NSL for actions  done in Japan.

“As similar cases accumulate, freedom of speech will eventually no longer be guaranteed, even in Japan,” Professor Ako wrote.

According to the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the ICCPR, protection of national security may only be invoked to justify measures “to protect the existence of the nation or its territorial integrity or political independence against force or threat of force”. There is no indication that the student did anything other than to make social media posts. The case therefore highlights not only the extraterritorial effects of the NSL, but also its draconian restrictions over non-violent political advocacy.

The chilling effects of the NSL, as observed by Professor Ako, spill over into China’s neighbouring countries. This is particularly worrying as it means that the overseas advocacy of Hong Kong diaspora groups could be subject to serious legal risks.

(June 2023 update: The student was formally charged in court and is now on bail (under strict terms). She is accused by the authorities of making 22 allegedly seditious statements on social media.)

(This story originally appeared in the March-April 2023 edition of our newsletter).

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