Taiwan has denied entry to a murder suspect from Hong Kong who has offered to surrender, in a case that helped spark the ongoing protests in the former British territory over an extradition law to China.

Hong Kong citizen Chan Tong-kai, wanted over the killing of his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan in 2018, has been barred from entering Taiwan despite his offer to turn himself in.

While the two were traveling in Taipei in February 2018, Chan strangled his girlfriend, surnamed Poon, after discovering she was pregnant to another man. He left a suitcase carrying her dismembered body and returned to Hong Kong.

Taiwan’s repeated requests to the Hong Kong government to send Chan back to stand trial were brushed aside due to the lack of a formal rendition agreement between the city and the island.

Chan was detained when he returned to Hong Kong on money laundering offenses linked to his theft of his girlfriend’s money and possessions.

In a strange quirk of fate, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam tried to use the case as a pretext to bulldoze through controversial amendments to change the extradition laws to allow the surrender of wanted people, not only to Taiwan, but also to Macau and mainland China.

But in a humiliating backdown, Lam dropped the bid in early September as anti-extradition bill protests raged on.

A jet of water with blue dye is fired from a police water cannon in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district to disperse protesters on Saturday. Photo: Facebook via AFP
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (center) conceded to protesters’ demands and pulled an extradition bill last month. Photo: China News Agency

In Chan’s case, many feared that justice would not be served as he would be freed after serving a 29-month sentence in a Hong Kong prison on Wednesday. He was jailed for the theft of his murdered girlfriend’s belongings.

Hong Kong’s courts do not have jurisdiction over crimes committed outside the city. However Chan, after being visited and admonished by a revered chaplain, wrote a letter to Lam last Friday, indicating his remorse and intention to return to Taiwan to face a murder charge, as long as he would not be given a death penalty.

Yet in an unexpected twist, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council moved to slap an entry ban on Chan last weekend, pending more information from the Hong Kong government on the case as well as on bilateral judicial assistance. The clergyman who had been in touch with Chan was also banned from visiting the island.

On Monday Taiwanese papers quoted the island’s National Immigration Agency as saying that Chan would need to apply for a travel permit in person at Taiwan’s representative office in Hong Kong and pass special security screening before his application could be considered.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice also stressed that it had repeatedly prodded Hong Kong authorities not to give up its judicial jurisdiction, keep Chan behind bars and charge him with homicide as he possibly plotted the murder in Hong Kong.

Taiwanese authorities did not want Hong Kong to shirk its responsibilities and ship the suspect to the island “in a wholesale fashion.” The ministry added that it would provide evidence to Hong Kong authorities to facilitate the prosecution.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s former President Ma Yung-jeou, of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang Party, lashed out at incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen for what he called “political scheming and manoeuvring” for giving up the island’s legal powers and turning away a suspect who wanted to surrender himself.

The Hong Kong government also noted in a statement on Sunday that less than one month after the murder the city dispatched police officers to Taiwan to discuss the case’s developments and evidence matters, and issued four related letters between June 2018 and April, but received no replies.

It stressed that there was no law allowing for the extradition of Chan to Taiwan, and that the island should handle Chan’s return as a case of self-surrender, while Hong Kong would offer all assistance within the limits of its own laws.

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