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Dec 3, 2023 | In The News

Hong Kong Free Press

In the 41st month since Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, criminalising secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism, debate arose over whether some national security trials could be transferred to mainland China if proposed new US sanctions become law.

Lawmakers in the US continued to criticise what they called the broad application of the legislation, claims that were denied by the government. Education authorities announced that children as young as eight would begin learning about the law in the city’s schools.

US calls for officials, judges to be hit by sanctions

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers was slammed by the Hong Kong government for introducing a bill to sanction 49 Hong Kong judges, prosecutors, and government officials “accountable for human rights violations.”

Congresswoman Young Kim, who chairs the US House Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific and was one of three legislators to introduce the Hong Kong Sanctions Act on November 1, said the aim was “to hold Hong Kong officials accountable for human rights violations and stand with Hongkongers facing scrutiny under Beijing’s ‘national security law’.”

She pointed to the impending national security trial of media mogul Jimmy Lai, saying his case was “unfortunately just the latest example of Beijing exploiting its ‘national security law’ to exert control of Hongkongers.”

The government was quick to respond, saying in a statement on November 3 that it “turns its nose up at these so-called ‘sanctions’ without any fear of intimidation, and it will continue to steadfastly fulfil its responsibility to safeguard national security.”

A separate report by a US Congressional commission released in mid-November said Hong Kong lived under mainland China’s control after Beijing interfered with the judicial system and weakened civil society. The assertions were denied by the government.

Article 55 debate

After the US lawmakers called for sanctions to be imposed on members of Hong Kong’s judiciary, pro-Beijing scholar Lau Siu-kai suggested that Beijing may step in to transfer “significant national security cases” for trial in mainland China under Article 55 of the law.

Lau, a consultant for semi-official Beijing think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said on November 5 that the central government had prepared “a last resort” in Article 55, which states that cases may be transferred to mainland Chinese jurisdiction under certain circumstances such as foreign interference.

Mainland China trial for Jimmy Lai?

Justice Secretary Paul Lam said however he was “100 per cent confident” that Hong Kong could handle the case against Jimmy Lai.

“Over the past three years, Hong Kong courts have handled trials of some national security cases. Can anyone who is reasonable say that judges did not adjudicate independently, remain loyal to their oath and pass sentence based on evidence and precedents? ” Lam said on November 10.

Later in the month, Lam declined to comment on whether the case against Lai might be transferred, saying it was a “hypothetical question.” But the power to decide on such transfers fundamentally lay with the central government as stipulated in the national security law, he said on November 19.

“Article 55, first and foremost, is an exceptional clause,” Lam said. “Article 40 states that offences under the security law would be handled in Hong Kong’s jurisdiction unless under the circumstances specified in Article 55.”

A ‘seditious’ shirt at the aiport

A 26-year-old man Chu Kai-poon was charged by national security police on November 29 over allegedly wearing “seditious” clothes at Hong Kong’s international airport. According to a government statement, the man was arrested near a boarding gate on November 27 after police “sped to the scene.

Local media citing sources reported that the man was wearing a T-shirt with the phrases “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “Hong Kong independence is the only way out” on it.

Chu was denied bail at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts and will be remanded in custody until his next court appearance on January 4.

47 democrats: verdict in 3-4 months, probably

The prosecution in the landmark national security trial of 47 pro-democracy figures argued in high court on Wednesday for “a wide interpretation” of the security law as closing arguments began, almost 10 months after the trial got underway.

According to one of the judges, a verdict may be delivered in three to four months – around three years after most of the defendants were denied bail.

The trial against the 16 members of the group who pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit subversion, over their roles in an unofficial primary election in July 2020, began in February. It had been adjourned since August, when the last defendant completed her testimony.

Catholic leaders call for Lai’s release

Calls by a group of foreign Catholic leaders for the immediate release of Lai, whose high-profile national security trial is set to get underway on December 18, were described as “misleading and slanderous” by the Hong Kong government.

he petition, dated November 1, was co-signed by Catholic leaders from the US, India, Australia, Lithuania, Canada, the UK, Ireland and Nigeria. They described the legal action against Lai, who is a Catholic, as “persecution” for his support for pro-democracy causes, saying the process “has gone on long enough.”

In response, the government said the following day it “firmly rejects and strongly disapproves of the fact-twisting remarks made by the foreign Catholic leaders to inappropriately interfere in the HKSAR’s internal affairs and the HKSAR courts’ independent exercise of judicial power.”

Familiar assurances for Article 23

Security chief Chris Tang said on November 5 that residents’ rights and freedoms would be protected after Hong Kong’s own security law is enacted next year, echoing assurances previously given about the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the Hong Kong government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against Beijing. Its attempted legislation failed in 2003 following mass protests and it was not tabled again until after the separate, Beijing-imposed security law came into force in 2020. Pro-democracy advocates fear it could have a negative effect on civil liberties.

“No matter whether it is the national security law, or the upcoming Article 23 legislation, we will definitely safeguard people’s freedom of speech in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or other international covenants,” Tang said.

Days later, Tang rejected a lawmaker’s suggestion that Article 23 could replace the Beijing-imposed national security law, saying that “vigilance” was still needed.

“It’s not our intention to speak about national security or scare citizens, but we must remain vigilant in peacetime,” Tang said on November 13, calling protests that erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill amendment a “lesson in blood.”

Bankruptcy petition filed against Ted Hui

The Hong Kong government in late November filed a bankruptcy petition against self-exiled former lawmaker Ted Hui, who was named in July as one of eight overseas pro-democracy figures wanted for alleged national security offences.

Last year, Hui, who fled the city in November 2020, was found guilty of contempt of court linked to his disappearance. The ex-lawmaker – who was on bail and facing nine criminal charges when he left Hong Kong – was accused of misleading police and the court into believing he would return to the city after a visit to Denmark, purportedly for a conference.

Stand News verdict delayed

The long-awaited verdict in the sedition case against Hong Kong outlet Stand News and two of its former editors has been postponed again pending a higher court’s ruling.

Despite already being almost two years since the online news outlet and the veteran journalists were charged under the colonial-era sedition law, district judge Kwok Wai-kin decided on November 15 to delay his verdict until after the Court of Appeal had ruled in a separate sedition case involving pro-democracy activist “Fast-Beat” Tam Tak-chi.

In July, the Court of Appeal said that it would deliver its judgement on Tam’s case within nine months.

4 months’ jail for calling for Xi Jinping’s downfall

Chow Man-wai, a 46-year-old clerk, was sentenced to four months in prison on November 23 after pleading guilty to “doing an act or acts with seditious intent” under the sedition law. 

He was said to have posted 49 “seditious comments” on online discussion forum LIHKG between March and September. These included calling for the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s leader Xi Jinping, as well as discussing killing top Chinese officials and bombing Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound.

Primary students to learn about security law

Hong Kong schoolchildren will start learning about the national security law from the age of eight or nine, the Education Bureau announced on November 23 as it unveiled a new humanities curriculum to be tested out in the next school year.

The new subject, which will replace General Studies, will require pupils to have a basic knowledge of the Beijing-enacted security legislation, the Hong Kong People’s Liberation Army garrison and national defence, the bureau announced.

Government appeals Chow Hang-tung acquittal

The Court of Final Appeal heard on November 22 the government’s appeal against thr acquittal of detained activist Chow Hang-tung on a charge of unauthorised assembly.

Chow, who has separately been charged with inciting subversion and detained under the national security law, should not have been able to challenge the legality of a police ban on the 2021 Tiananmen crackdown vigil in her criminal trial over the unauthorised commemoration, the prosecution argued.

The former chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organised the city’s annual vigils for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, has been detained since September 2021, when she was arrested and charged under the national security law. A trial date for the security case has yet to be set.

Lam Cheuk-ting

Former Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who is among the 47 pro-democracy figures accused of conspiring to commit subversion under the security law, was found on November 23 to have a case to answer in a separate trial linked to a mob attack in Yuen Long in 2019.

Lam and six others stand accused of rioting in Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019. On that day, over 100 rod-wielding men dressing in white stormed the station and indiscriminately attacked commuters and journalists, leaving 45 people injured including Lam.

He has been remanded in custody over the national security charge since March 2021.

HKU student leaders

Four former University of Hong Kong student leaders, who were convicted over mourning a man who stabbed a police officer before taking his own life in July 2021, have sought to appeal their two-year sentences for incitement to wound.

Although originally arrested and charged in August 2021 with terrorism under the national security law, Anthony Yung, Charles Kwok, Kinson Cheung and Chris Todorovski pleaded guilty in September to an alternative charge of incitement to wound with intent.

They were each sentenced to two years in prison in October.

Latest prosecution and arrest figures

As of November 20, 285 people had been arrested for suspected acts and activities that endangered national security since the legislation was enacted, the Security Bureau told HKFP. Among them, 171 people and five companies had been charged under the national security law or the sedition law or with other crimes.

Of them, 101 people have been convicted or are awaiting sentencing. Among those, 32 have been charged or are awaiting sentencing for offences under the national security law.

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