HONG KONG — After business groups had criticized a plan to ease rendition of fugitives between Hong Kong and jurisdictions including mainland China, the Hong Kong government pulled back, a little.
Last week, the Hong Kong authorities dropped from their proposal nine economic crimes that could prompt an extradition.
But on Wednesday, the government of Chief Executive Carrie Lam showed that it has no intention of stopping its broader push to overhaul its extradition laws, and introduced legislation intended to help Hong Kong send fugitives to jurisdictions that it does not have rendition agreements with.
John Lee, the Hong Kong secretary for security, said that the legislation would “block loopholes in the overall system of cooperation on criminal justice.”
But lawyers’ associations and human rights groups have broadly criticized the extradition proposal, which has added to fears that Hong Kong’s status, which offers greater protection for individual rights and free speech than mainland China does, is fading.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters marched in a steady rain to express their displeasure with the move. Opponents have called the proposed changes the “send to China rules,” a homonym for a Chinese phrase for funerary rites.
The changes to the extradition policy were proposed after a young woman from Hong Kong was found dead in Taiwan last year. The police in Taiwan said they believe her boyfriend, who is also from Hong Kong, killed her while they were there on vacation.
The boyfriend was arrested in Hong Kong and charged with several crimes related to the theft of the woman’s property, but under local law he could face charges for her killing only in Taiwan.
Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement with Taiwan, so the authorities proposed changing the rules to make it easier to send suspects to such jurisdictions, including mainland China.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese control in 1997 under a framework of “one country, two systems,” which allows it to maintain its own local government and legal system.
Under existing law, Hong Kong can extradite people to places it does not have formal agreements with if the legislature approves such an action.
But government officials have said that the system is not feasible because the legislative process could alert targets give them time to flee before the authorities act. The proposed changes will allow Hong Kong’s chief executive, the city’s top official, to make such decisions instead.
“The surrender on a case basis is full of matters that make it not practicable,” Mr. Lee, the security secretary, said on Tuesday. “So to me, it is a loophole that I must plug.”
The Hong Kong Bar Association is one group that has been critical of the government’s position. On Tuesday, it said that a lack of extradition arrangements with mainland China was not a “loophole,” but a decision made by the legislature in 1997 because of fundamentally different systems and concerns about the weak protection for rights across the border.
“There has been a failure by the government to explain why it considers that circumstances have changed since 1997,” the bar association said in a statement.
It added that if the government chose to omit some economic crimes because of the business community’s concerns about due process on the mainland, then it should not permit rendition for any offenses. Cutting only some crimes “does not deal with the fundamental issues underlying rendition of suspects” to mainland China, it said.
Claudia Mo, a lawmaker and member of the pro-democracy coalition in the legislature, called the move to exclude some economic crimes “disgusting.”
“How could you compartmentalize laws like this because you need to appease a certain sector?” she said.
Mr. Lee said that any changes would maintain rights protections, and that suspects would not be extradited over political charges. But criticism has swelled in recent days, with several journalist associations and news outlets rejecting the government’s assurances.
The changes “will not only threaten the safety of journalists but also have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Hong Kong,” the media organizations said in a joint statement.
The statement listed several cases of journalists being harassed in mainland China by the authorities and accused of violations listed in the proposed extradition law changes, including drug offenses and bribery.
Hong Kong has been shaken by cases of residents who became entangled in mainland legal matters, including the sort of behaviors with political ramifications that are treated as criminal only in authoritarian states.
Five booksellers who sold thinly sourced works that speculated on elite politics and the personal lives of China’s leaders disappeared into mainland custody in late 2015, only to be shown later on state television offering confessions to alleged crimes.
Taiwan has also raised issue with the legislation. The authorities there have said that they are eager to have Chan Tong-kai, the man accused of killing the Hong Kong woman, handed over to face trial.
But the question of Taiwan’s status could create an obstacle. China considers self-ruled Hong Kong to be part of its territory, but Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice has said it would not go along with an extradition agreement that makes such a declaration.
The Hong Kong Bar Association said that such a disagreement raises questions about whether the proposed changes will achieve the stated goal of sending Mr. Chan to Taiwan.
“Given that the government cannot give any assurance that the proposed amendments will result in a favorable resolution,” it said, “there is no reason for the government to rush into these controversial and worrying proposals which undermine the international reputation of Hong Kong.”