03 July 2020

'None of your business' - Beijing defiant over security law's threat to Hong Kong's autonomy

Protesters Hong Kong

Protesters in Hong Kong last month

Hong Kong's bar association calls for city's foundational values to be reaffirmed after 'total absence of meaningful consultation'

The world’s leading democracies were swift to condemn Hong Kong’s new national security law (NSL), which came to force at 11pm on 30 June.

They were joined by the International Bar Association (IBA) and the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), which described it as ‘a grave departure from the fundamental principles upon which the People's Republic of China (PRC) agreed with the United Kingdom to govern Hong Kong after its transfer to the PRC’.

The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) was also quick off the mark, issuing a scathing analysis both of the law’s content and the manner of its introduction.

In doing so it highlighted the extent to which the ‘one country two systems’ model that has underpinned Hong Kong’s success as an international hub has been undermined.

"Nobody in the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] had seen so much as a draft or accurate summary of the NSL before its entry into force,” it complained.

“In addition to the total absence of meaningful consultation, lawyers, judges, police and Hong Kong residents were given no opportunity to familiarise themselves with the contents of the new law, including the serious criminal offences it creates, before it came into force."

The NSL outlaws four kinds of national security crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security, with sentences of up to life in prison. 

The HKBA said the crimes were ‘widely drawn and absent a clear and comprehensive array of ... basic safeguards as to legal certainty and fair treatment’ and ‘capable of being applied in a manner that is arbitrary’. 

Furthermore, it noted the power of interpretation was vested in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), which ‘has the potential to undercut the independent exercise of judicial power by the courts of the region’.

Power to designate a list of approved judges for national security cases now rests with the chief executive of the HKSAR and not senior judges. New judges will be appointed each year and can be struck off the list ‘if their words or deeds endanger national security’. 

Should central authorities decide to exercise jurisdiction in a given case, suspects can be taken to the mainland to face trial using mainland criminal procedures.

The HKBA said there were insufficient safeguards to protect such individuals and flagged that the law enables Beijing to establish a national security agency in Hong Kong, staffed by officials who are not obliged to comply with local law. 

And it concluded its statement by calling on Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to reaffirm the ‘foundational values’ of the HKSAR and to commit her government to applying the NSL in a manner that is ‘fully consistent with the Basic Law and Hong Kong Bill of Rights’.

The IBA pointed out that almost immediately after the law was enacted, prominent Hong Kong activists ‘shut down their campaign groups and deleted their social media profiles for fear of being arrested and sent to mainland China’.

Three such activists, Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Nathan Law, issued statements on Facebook announcing their withdrawal from pro-democracy political organisation Demosisto. Nathan Law has since left Hong Kong and Demosisto has been disbanded. 

Wong said the legislation was "the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before", adding: "From now on, Hong Kong enters a new era of reign of terror. With sweeping powers and ill-defined law the city will turn into a secret police state." 

However, the NSL has not been met with criticism from all sides. Speaking at a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council this week, Cuba - on behalf of more than 50 countries - said: "Non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign states is an essential principle enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

"We believe every country has the right to safeguard its national security through legislation, and commend relevant steps taken for this purpose." 

Speaking to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Lam said the city had been "traumatised by escalating violence fanned by external forces", adding: "No central government could turn a blind eye to such threats to sovereignty and national security."

Beijing's response thus far seems to be one of defiance: "What's this got to do with you?" said senior official Zhang Xiaoming at a press conference. "It's none of your business."

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