Skip to main content

Travellers at Toronto Pearson International Airport’s Terminal 1, are photographed on May 25, 2022.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

The United States has listed Hong Kong as somewhere Americans are at risk of arbitrary detention, along with mainland China, Myanmar, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela.

In an updated travel advisory issued this week, the U.S. State Department said citizens “traveling or residing in the PRC, including the Hong Kong SAR, may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime.”

“U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention without due process of law,” the advisory added.

Asked whether Canadians were at similar risk, Sabrina Williams, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the government “has been advising Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution in Hong Kong due to the risks of arbitrary enforcement of local laws since July 29, 2020.”

That was when Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, criminalizing secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers. Ms. Williams said Canadians should be aware that under the law, “activities considered as national security violations are broadly and vaguely defined. They could include activities that are not considered illegal in Canada and that occurred outside of Hong Kong.”

“Canadians risk being arbitrarily detained on national security grounds, even while transiting through Hong Kong,” she said. “They could be subject to transfer to mainland China for prosecution. Penalties are severe and include life imprisonment.”

The U.S. introduced the new “D” risk indicator for travel advisories this month. In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it would serve to “highlight the elevated risk of wrongful detention in particular countries that have regularly engaged in this practice.”

An executive order creating the new designation came in the wake of the arrest of basketball player Brittney Griner in Russia.

Ms. Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession charges earlier this month, but said the presence of cannabis oil in her baggage was unintentional and “through negligence.” Washington regards her detention as wrongful and politically motivated, with Moscow believed to be seeking a swap for a high-profile prisoner in the U.S. such as arms trafficker Victor Bout.

Numerous U.S. and Canadian citizens are also detained in China, some without access to consular assistance. Others are subject to arbitrary exit bans, free to move around China but not leave the country.

China’s use of arbitrary detentions and political prosecution of foreigners came to global attention with the arrest of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in 2018, following the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The Globe previously reported that at least 115 other Canadians are still being held in China, with four facing the death penalty. Ottawa’s ability or willingness to advocate on their behalf has been questioned by some, with opposition lawmakers urging the Trudeau administration to do more to pressure China, particularly in cases where Beijing refuses to acknowledge a detainee’s Canadian citizenship.

One of the most prominent Canadians held in China is billionaire Xiao Jianhua, who was snatched from a hotel in Hong Kong in 2017 and finally went on trial this month in Shanghai. The hearing was held in secret and journalists and consular officials prevented from attending.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.