Police detain protesters after a protest in Causeway Bay earlier than the annual handover march in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July. 1, 2020.
Credit score: AP Picture/Kin Cheung
Even because the Hong Kong authorities is growing penalties for political speech and civic activism, together with underneath the Nationwide Safety Regulation enacted final June, the authorities are encountering some constraints on their skill to run roughshod over Hong Kong’s long-respected authorized system.
Hong Kong’s judiciary is a remnant of the territory’s British colonial rule, replete with the custom of robes and wigs, but additionally due course of, frequent legislation precedents, and impartial solicitors, barristers, and judges. Maybe it’s no shock then that pushback towards politically motivated prosecutions is rising from legal professionals, judges, the worldwide neighborhood, and the ideas of the territory’s frequent legislation system itself. Occasions over the previous month spotlight these competing developments, which current an unprecedented check for the rule of legislation in Hong Kong.
An Increasing Crackdown
The month of January opened with a spherical of mass arrests throughout Hong Kong. On January 6, Hong Kong police detained greater than 50 activists and politicians underneath the town’s Nationwide Safety Regulation. Officers claimed these detained had dedicated “subversion” by holding a major final July to pick candidates who would symbolize the pro-democracy camp in Legislative Council elections, which had been subsequently postponed till September 2021. Police seized greater than 200 digital gadgets from the detainees and reportedly despatched them to mainland authorities for information extraction. Along with the arrests, police visited the workplaces of at the very least three information retailers, serving warrants demanding paperwork associated to the July major.
Inside days, authorities ordered native web service suppliers to dam entry to an activist web site, utilizing a tactic deployed pervasively on the mainland, however not often in Hong Kong. The blocked website, HKChronicles, is a platform that has been utilized by activists to dox law enforcement officials (amongst them, these concerned in attacking protesters) and expose pro-Beijing companies. Whereas Hong Kong Broadband Community said it stopped customers from accessing the positioning on January 13, HKChronicles editor Naomi Chan claims customers had difficulties accessing the positioning as early as January 6.
Then, on January 14, police arrested 11 folks for offering assist to activists who sought to flee Hong Kong by boat to Taiwan final summer time. These arrested included Daniel Wong Kwok-tung, a lawyer and district councilor who had supplied authorized help to the 12 activists after their detention by mainland police. On December 30, a Shenzhen court docket sentenced 10 of the “Hong Kong 12” to between seven months and three years in jail for illegally crossing the border. Chinese language authorities have additionally threatened to revoke the licenses of legal professionals employed to symbolize them.
Authorized Hurdles and Worldwide Pushback
These examples show how the Hong Kong authorities’s crackdown on political opposition is affecting a rising variety of residents and types of speech. However it’s also operating into maybe surprising authorized obstacles. Whereas the Nationwide Safety Regulation grants authorities broad powers to criminalize political dissent, authorized consultants counsel that the political sensitivity of those circumstances, and Hong Kong’s personal frequent legislation system, means authorities nonetheless must construct sturdy circumstances. Thus, police haven’t but issued formal prices towards any of the 50-plus activists arrested on January 6. All however one have been launched on bail — although their passports had been confiscated to forestall overseas journey, and data on their gadgets will probably be used to dig up proof of their alleged crimes.
On January 18, three pupil activists detained final July for “inciting secession” grew to become the primary folks arrested underneath the Nationwide Safety Regulation to be launched unconditionally by police, though officers instructed one of many college students that they might collect extra proof and rearrest her. Two days later, British-born barrister David Perry stepped down from main the prosecution of 9 pro-democracy advocates associated to a peaceable 2019 protest, after legal professionals and policymakers within the U.Ok. raised moral questions on his participation within the case.
Vocal efforts to guard judicial independence in Hong Kong additionally emerged over the previous month from the very best echelons of the territory’s authorized system. On January 11, Andrew Cheung Kui-nung was sworn in as Hong Kong’s new chief justice. In his inaugural speech, Cheung criticized political strain and assaults on the judiciary, remarking that it “have to be and should stay an impartial and neutral judiciary.”
International governments are additionally responding to intensifying state repression in Hong Kong. On January 10, a joint assertion by the American, Australian, British, and Canadian overseas ministers expressed “severe concern” in regards to the January 6 arrest of dozens of democratic activists. On Twitter, then Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken called the arrests “an assault on these bravely advocating for common rights.” In response to the arrests, Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, introduced sanctions towards six officers, together with the vice chairman of Beijing’s Central Main Group on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs and the deputy director of Hong Kong’s nationwide safety workplace.
The crackdown on activists in Hong Kong is for certain to proceed all through 2021 and will embody deepening media and web censorship, in addition to questionable electoral reforms. Nonetheless, if prosecutors and judges — even these coping with Nationwide Safety Regulation circumstances — really feel compelled by public and worldwide strain to retain not solely a rule-of-law veneer however some substance of due course of, then Beijing and Hong Kong officers can be left with two unattractive choices. Both they permit area for such protections, leading to potential acquittals or unconditional releases of people deemed to be high-profile political enemies of the Chinese language Communist Occasion. Or they comply with mainland China’s playbook, partaking in large-scale arbitrary detention and censorship — together with of authorized professionals themselves — additional harming Hong Kong’s fame as a rules-based international monetary hub.
Ongoing worldwide consideration and strain — not solely from governments, but additionally from the enterprise neighborhood — goes to be essential in tilting the scales so far as potential within the route of retaining the rule of legislation and thereby permitting some hope for a freer Hong Kong to outlive. For, as Professor Jerome Cohen asks in a latest article, the million greenback query stays, “How lengthy can Hong Kong courts resist the strain to behave extra like these on the mainland?”