A dozen top international lawyers published a letter on October 15, warning that Hong Kong’s human rights, and judicial independence are under serious threat.
They expressed serious concern over recent incidents that implied increasing pressure from the central government including the imprisonment of the Occupy Central activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung.
The three student leaders of the Umbrella Movement in 2014 – which was considered one of the most peaceful acts of civil disobedience ever seen – resulted in Wong and Law serving 80 and 120 hours of community service respectively, while Chow received a three-week suspended sentence. However, the Secretary of Justice later reopened the case to seek even tougher punishments since they appeared to “not feel true remorse”.
This decision was met with criticism internationally – most notably from the Taiwanese and US governments. The law they were charged with breaking, the Public Order Ordinance, has been criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for failing to meet international human rights law. Amnesty International regarded the sentences as “a vindictive attack on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.
Hong Kong’s judicial independence is, according to Court of Final Appeal Judge Kemal Bokhary, under serious threat. “The city’s judges want to protect [Hong Kong’s] independence, but they face increasing pressure from Beijing,” he said.
In 2014, the central government issued a statement declaring that Beijing has “comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong”, which threatens the One Country, Two Systems principle promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Beijing also stated that Hong Kong’s judges are only regarded as “administrators subject to oversight by the Central Government”.
These statements show that the mainland has gradually lost trust and respect in Hong Kong’s legal system and intends to gradually implement its own.
“There isn’t really anything to enforce One Country, Two Systems,” said constitutional and human rights scholar Johannes Chan. “The British won’t, they don’t even want to say anything and Hong Kong is not in a position to argue [with Beijing].”
Although it seems difficult for us Hongkongers to stand up to the power of Beijing, we have to do our best to safeguard what’s left of One Country, Two Systems.