According to Amnesty International, the new Hong Kong security law "applies to everyone on the planet". I quote:

The wording of the Hong Kong national security law asserts jurisdiction over people who are not residents of Hong Kong and have never even set foot there. This means anyone on Earth, regardless of nationality or location, can technically be deemed to have violated this law and face arrest and prosecution if they are in a Chinese jurisdiction, even for transit. Accused foreign nationals who don’t permanently reside in Hong Kong can be deported even before any trial or verdict.

Social media companies, for example, can be asked to remove content deemed unacceptable by the Chinese government, even if these were posted outside of Hong Kong or if the companies’ offices and servers are located in other countries.

That seems so surreal. Are countries allowed to do this? Can country X legislate stuff like "anyone who tells a joke that denigrates citizens of country X will be prosecuted"?

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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please write a real answer.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 20:36

5 Answers 5


How far applicable the law of a country is is decided by the law of that country. If other countries disagree, they can obviously decline to assist in the enforcement of those laws, and disallow the agents of the first country to act on their territory.

There even is precedent that a country outlaws behaviour not related to it at all. For example, German law forbids stuff like genocide and human trafficing regardless of where it happens, who perpetrates it and who it is done to. France and the UK both make torture punishable, again regardless of who and where. There are more examples:

Universal Jurisdiction on Wikipedia

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    There is a reason why a lot of countries are suspending their extradition agreement with China/Hong Kong; they disagree on the details of the new law and are stopping formal cooperation before anyone gets extradited "under the radar".
    – Nelson
    Commented Aug 2, 2020 at 1:06
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    An amusing sentence from the article, given their attitude towards this: “According to Amnesty International, a proponent of universal jurisdiction”...
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 2, 2020 at 8:30
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    @Nelson, stopping automatic extradition does not stop formal cooperation on extradition. It just requires a local court to consider all the evidence etc before extradition. Commented Aug 2, 2020 at 13:34
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    And then there was Iran's fatwa against Rushdie. Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 3:50
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    @IanRingrose: Extradition (automatic or otherwise) is not normally granted in cases where the alleged offense is legal in the country of origin. You might expect a country like Saudi Arabia to extradite, but not the US or (the liberal western parts of) the EU.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 21:00

It is quite common for countries to prosecute both actions by and against their nationals as soon as the perpetrator enters their jurisdiction. Some will also prosecute certain crimes by anyone who is presently in their jurisdiction, no matter where they happened.

Some key points to take away:

  • For some crimes (a citizen of country A murders a citizen of country B while both are in country C) there may be multiple, competing claims of jurisdiction. Here it will matter which country holds the perpetrator, and if they are willing to extradite to any other country before or after they hold a trial themselves.
  • The number of countries which can effectively claim jurisdiction over people not on their territory is limited, they need the diplomatic power to push an extradition request through.

Did you follow the case of Meng Wanzhou? A Chinese businesswoman possibly did something against US laws with extraterritorial scope. She went to Canada and the US requested her arrest. Ever since she has been held in Canada while Canadian courts decide if she will be extradited.

For that matter, the US has been trying to get the Australian Julian Assange for ages.

But it is not just the US. Turkey issued an arrest warrant against a German with Turkish roots which Spain applied until the decision was overturned by a Spanish court.

Perhaps China implicitly announced that they see themselves in the same league when it comes to international enforcement of their domestic laws. If you do something China does not like, you shouldn't travel to China any more, or to any other country which would honor a Chinese extradition request.

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    @luchonacho, your freedom hasn't been curtailed, you just realized it never has been as much as you thought it was. That's different. People weak countries knew that all along, people from powerful countries could see the world through rose-colored glasses. On the other hand, China is unlikely to go after people making random comments on the web if they don't come to China.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 2, 2020 at 15:50
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    Your freedom of speech is not curtailed in any way. Exercising it may involve unwanted consequences.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 6:30
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    @RedSonja What is the difference? "You are free to insult me but I will kill you if you do so". That is evidently not freedom of speech!
    – luchonacho
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 7:25
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    @luchonacho - try shouting "fire!" in a crowded indoor venue, or threaten the life of the president. You have the freedom to do these things, you also have the freedom to take the consequences. Absolute freedom to say anything you like to anyone, anywhere, is imaginary; there is not and never has been any such thing.
    – Spratty
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 8:59
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    @luchonacho It feels you are falling prey to a common misconception regarding Freedom of Speech. It says exactly one thing: that the US government and its institutions can't punish you for your speech, not that nobody else will.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 11:56

This reflects similar situations applicable wrt other nations.

A person wanted by the US authorities flew on a Canada-Mexico flight across the US. The aircraft was instructed to land en-route in the US and the passenger was removed.

Israeli nationals who have any concern that they may be legally detained by countries who have extradition treaties with their "enemies" follow a circuitous air route to and from Israel - there is only one route which ensures access to "the world" without transiting territories where they may be detained.

In 2017 the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. when travelling from Australia to Singapore, took the route shown below so as to not transit Indonesian territory.

enter image description here

[From here.] This was due to a mix of the El Al airline not being authorised to enter Indonesian territory (or claimed territory) and the obvious inadvisability of the PM doing so.

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    Wouldn’t it have been much shorter to go round Indonesia to the west, over the Indian Ocean?
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 11:21
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    @MikeScott I measured the length of the route flown (by walking the edge of a sheet of paper along the image), and then a route starting with the path flown by the Singapore airliner through Australia (assuming the route taken was the most efficient following air corridors) to the coast before swinging farther westward, and reached the same distance as the route flown at a point corresponding to where you'd be able to start turning around the northern tip of Sumatra, so the answer to your question appears to be no. Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 11:32
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    @MikeScott Airlines prefer to fly over land, this has been covered on other SE sites (Aviation and/or Travel).
    – Mast
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 12:11
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    @MikeScott There is also the possibility that flight over Malaysia was deemed to have some risk. Wikipedia +: "Malaysia is a constitutionally secular state. Malaysia is a multicultural and multiconfessional country, whose official religion is Islam." While I'd consider it extremely unlikely that Malaysia would cause problems in this respect, Occam suggests that 'assured to be (probably) safe' is preferred to 'unlikely' Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 12:37

Countries do this all the time. Sometimes, they will claim universal jurisdiction for crimes they consider particularly heinous or crucial to their national security (think Julian Assange). Many jurisdiction will prosecute crimes like defamation based on the victim's location (the perpetrator's might not even be known initially).

Some countries get some leverage from their role in the international financial system, sports, etc. so that you don't even notice that they effectively exercise some form of worldwide jurisdiction. The US in particular is well known to (selectively) arrest executives of foreign companies for crimes that have no particular connection to the US when they get the chance.

The only difference is how the crime is perceived from (y)our perspective (Is it serious enough? Should even be a crime?) but of course the Chinese authorities probably have a very different view of the crimes your country or my country choose to prosecute in that way.


YES you can be prosecuted.

BUT you are largely safe if you limit yourself to go to places that have no extradition arrangements with China or Hong Kong, or those places that will likely reject a extradition request.

Countries are perfectly allowed to prosecute slander, seditious speech, or lese-majeste, wherever they’re committed. A good example is Saudi Arabia, which quite actively enforces these laws, both by detaining suspects entering or transiting through Saudi Arabia, or by requesting the suspects’ extradition. Saudi Arabia’s extradition requests may not always be complied with, Dina Ali Lasloom’s case being a tragic counterexample.

From the Hong Kong government’s track record of enforcing the security law, people living overseas like you are even less likely to be prosecuted.

Between Jul-Sep 2020, the government has only charged a handful of people with crimes under the security law, mostly for displaying independence banners or similar symbols on July 1st and 21st. Unofficially, the security law made its greatest impact by pressuring major activist groups like Demosisto to voluntarily disband. On the other hand, the government did not attempt to prosecute activists who primarily worked overseas to lobby for foreign intervention, notably Joshua Wong. Still, only time will tell how Hong Kong's government handles the security law.

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