Ongoing concerns on the situation in Hong Kong and the independence of the Bar Association
Lawyers for Lawyers has previously raised concerns on the position of lawyers in Hong Kong after the National Security Law (NSL) has entered into force on 1 July 2020. The NSL has been in place for almost two years now. Lawyers for Lawyers has growing concerns about the situation of lawyers in Hong Kong and the independence of the Bar Association in Hong Kong in connection to the NSL.
The NSL criminalizes acts that China deems challenging to its authority. This includes acts of secession and collusion with foreign forces. We were informed that the charges under the NSL are loosely defined and open to interpretation. The NSL creates offenses that fall under the laws of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), rather than under the laws of Hong Kong.
Recently, UK judges withdrew from the Hong Kong Court of final appeal, concerned that their continued participation in the Hong Kong judiciary would appear as an endorsement of the current “department from values of political freedom and freedom of expression”. Judges of the UK Supreme Court had sat on the Hong Kong final court of appeal since 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China.
According to some Hong Kong lawyers, the NSL has infringed upon Hong Kong’s autonomy and the NSL exposes Hong Kong lawyers to a possible crackdown on human rights defenders, similar to those taking place in China since 2015. The last two years, the NSL has indeed had a chilling effect on lawyers in Hong Kong in the last years. Many lawyers involved in human rights cases have discontinued their work or even left Hong Kong out of fear of repercussions.
One such lawyer is Paul Harris, the ex-chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, who recently fled Hong Kong after he was interrogated by the police for an alleged breach of the NSL. Harris is a prominent human rights lawyer and criticized the sentencing of veteran democrats over two unauthorized assemblies. He was elected as chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association on January 21, 2021. At the beginning of his tenure, Harris wrote in an article on the Bar Association’s website that the security law was “not consistent” with the rule of law in Hong Kong. According to reports, his recent interrogation was also related to NGO Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, of which Harris was the founding chairperson. The rights group has been accused by state-run media of colluding with foreign forces and playing a “major role” in the anti-extradition protests in 2019. Harris has been replaced as the Hong Kong Bar Association’s chairman.
The Hong Kong Bar Association itself has also come under fire from Beijing for comments seen as “political”, and the government reportedly urged to revoke its power to license barristers to practise. The new chairman has expressed that the Bar Association will continue to speak out on the rule of law, but not on political issues. Dennis Kwok, a former Hong Kong lawyer and parliamentarian has stated with regards to the Hong Kong Bar Association: “They have always been very outspoken against authoritarianism and draconian laws, but have been told their status will be taken away if they continue to do so. There is complete silence now.”
Lawyers for Lawyers will continue to monitor the situation of Lawyers in Hong Kong.
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