A few days ago, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), which is composed of a bunch of hawkish anti-China politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio, urged the US government to impose sanctions against Paul Lam Ting-kwok, the newly appointed secretary for justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and 15 government lawyers in the Prosecutions Division of the Department of Justice.
These 15 government lawyers include the director of public prosecutions, the head overseeing all criminal prosecutions in the HKSAR; her deputies; as well as public prosecutors ranging from the junior to senior grades. They are all designated to handle prosecutions of offenses committed in the yearlong riots in 2019-20 and related cases detected after that. Save the post of secretary for justice, which is a political appointment by the chief executive, the sanctioned officers are all civil servants who are merely doing their jobs under their respective employment contracts.
The US government has been using these so-called sanctions in a trigger-happy manner in recent years. After the passing of the National Security Law (NSL) for Hong Kong in June 2020, Hong Kong’s chief executive, secretary for justice, secretary for security, commissioner of police, and several other senior figures in the government were sanctioned. They were accused by the US government of suppression of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, violations of human rights, etc, notwithstanding the fact that public order was restored and normality of the society was reestablished, all thanks to the enforcement and deterrence of the NSL.
As an international financial and commercial hub, one of the strengths of Hong Kong is its common law system and the rule of law upheld by the city’s judicial officers and legal practitioners. Arrests and prosecutions of those defendants in the 2019-20 riots, as well as the NSL cases, are all conducted in accordance with laws. These defendants had committed serious criminal offenses, including rioting, arson, wounding of police officers or civilians, possession of explosives, arms and ammunition, etc, and hence were arrested and prosecuted. Some of them were convicted after trials, which were all held in open court, while others were acquitted because of insufficient evidence to prove their guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. All of these defendants were free to engage their defense lawyers, and most of them were granted legal aid by the SAR government to hire their preferred legal counsel, with taxpayers’ money, in trials. Hong Kong’s public prosecutors, like their counterparts in other jurisdictions, carry out the duty of bringing criminals to court, with the task of presenting evidence to support the prosecution’s cases. If the US government would be bothered to send a decent person with a bit of legal background to attend these court proceedings as an observer, it would know how the criminal justice system of Hong Kong is operated. What the CECC is trying now is simply a smearing exercise and an intimidation of legal professionals in Hong Kong, aiming to stop lawyers from joining the Department of Justice. I am aware that many barristers in private practice often decline to accept briefs from the DOJ to act as prosecutors on fiat, fearing that they will be targeted by the anti-government mobs who hang around in courts and harass or even threaten the prosecutors either face-to-face or via social media. Now sanctions by the US government serve as a further pinch of salt in the wounds.
This outrageously unfair and groundless sanction is interference in the internal affairs of the HKSAR, as part of the US government’s China-bashing strategies. With the exception of the US, no other government on Earth, even the US’ de facto vassals like Japan and the UK, would be so thick-skinned to do such a brainless bullying act. Ironically, despite her status being the most influential member in the United Nations, the US has violated the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States. The sanctions are also a blatant breach of the nonintervention principle of customary international laws, which was endorsed in the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1970.
The CECC’s accusations are outrageously cheap, coarse and nonsensical. Contrary to the CECC’s ignorant accusations, prosecutors in Hong Kong are not part of the legislature and play no part in enactment of the NSL. Neither do the prosecutors have power to impose any form of “arbitrary detention” of political prisoners. Members of the CECC could not even figure out that it is the judge who makes decisions on sentencing and ruling on bail applications. From what we have seen in this farce, we may understand why the US is in decline in many aspects these years. There are far too many American politicians who are lacking basic common sense and sound judgment on right or wrong, yet they are the ones making the most noise. Degradation of US hegemony is doomed.
The author is a practicing solicitor in Hong Kong, specializing in criminal law and cross-boundary legal matters between the Chinese mainland and the HKSAR.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.