Hong Kong leader issues warning to territory’s top legal body

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says gov’t could intervene in Bar Association after its chief criticised jailing of pro-democracy activists.

Carrie Lam
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the Central Government Offices complex in Hong Kong [File: Jerome Favre/EPA]

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has warned that the government could intervene in the Bar Association, the territory’s top legal body after its chief criticised the jailing of pro-democracy politicians earlier this month.

On Sunday, China’s representative office in Hong Kong labelled Bar Chairman Paul Harris an “anti-China politician” after he spoke out against the jailing of the activists and politicians.

Speaking at her weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Lam said that while Hong Kong respects freedom of expression, there are limits.

“For the time being, I do not see the case for any government intervention into the affairs of the Hong Kong Bar Association,” Lam said.

“But, of course, if there are instances or complaints about the bar not acting in accordance with the Hong Kong law, then, of course, the government would be called into action.”

Harris had questioned the custodial sentences given to media tycoon Jimmy Lai and others for taking part in an unauthorised assembly during anti-government demonstrations in 2019 and also defended the right to peaceful protests.

Harris had argued that peaceful demonstrations remain legal in the city and that such demonstrations serve as a channel for people to express their grievances. Earlier this year, he had also called for amendments in national security law, which China imposed on Hong Kong in June last year.

Tiananmen commemoration in question

In response, the Liaison Office accused him of being “an anti-Chinese politician with intimate foreign connections,” and questioned how he could safeguard the rule of law in the former British colony if he were to remain on as chairman.

Given the “statutory powers” of the Bar Association’s leader, it should uphold the principle of “patriots ruling Hong Kong”, the spokesman said. China previously called Harris “anti-communist” after he called for amendments to the security law.

Beijing is in the midst of overhauling Hong Kong’s electoral system to ensure only people it says are “patriots” can run for office.

hong Kong vigil
Despite threats issued by the Hong Kong government, thousands of people gathered in the city last year to remember the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square mass killings [File: Vincent Yu/AP]

Asked if an annual vigil to mark the June 4 anniversary of a crackdown on democracy protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 would violate the national security law, Lam said onthat only respecting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was important.

Hong Kong has for years been the only place in China where the Tiananmen Square crackdown has been publicly remembered

“This year is the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the CCP,” Lam said. “Everybody sees under the leadership of CCP, the taking-off of our country’s economy and the happy lives led by the people in these decades,” Lam said.

“So, respecting our country’s governing party is our stance.”

The CCP celebrates its centenary in July.

On Monday, the Civil Human Rights Front, the organiser of an annual rally in Hong Kong on July 1, which marks the date the city was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, said police had asked it to provide details of its finances and explain other activities, sparking concern the protest might not go ahead this year.

Lam refused to comment, but cited Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng’s statement in which she said that rights and freedoms in Hong Kong “are not without limitations”.

The city’s chief executive ended her press conference by announcing that the second reading for the bill to overhaul the elections in the city is up for a second reading on May 26.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters