US threats of sanctions on HK prosecutors are blatant foreign interference

The recent publication of a staff research report by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China threatening to impose sanctions on several key prosecutors within the Hong Kong Judiciary is a blatant act of foreign interference in the domestic affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and a display of bald-faced hypocrisy by the US government. 

As a legal practitioner and Legislative Council representative for the Legal Functional Constituency, it is my duty to scrutinize the integrity of our legal system and government. As such, I wholeheartedly endorse the current state of Hong Kong’s legal system for its independence and resistance to pressures from foreign political forces.

The aforementioned report claimed that the protest-related charges associated with the National Security Law for Hong Kong infringed on the human rights of “protesters, journalists, civil society workers, and opposition political figures”. This claim is simply false, as all of the arrested individuals were tried through our independent and transparent judicial procedures, and some were even granted bail in the process. Withal, the report made suggestions to the US Congress to utilize the US laws of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 and the Hong Kong Autonomy Act of 2020 to justify sanctions on our prosecutors and to label Hong Kong as a place that condones human rights violations. The perverted use of newly enacted laws as foreign policy weapons demonstrates Washington’s intention to impose a global hegemony of American ways of autocratic rule by law, even if it entails political interference at the expense of social and economic instability in other countries.

In spite of the US’ threats to impose sanctions, the integrity of Hong Kong’s legal system has remained as robust as ever. Judicial independence is a core element in the cardinal principle of the governance structure in Hong Kong and a core value of the Hong Kong people. It has been constitutionally guaranteed by the Basic Law since the handover in 1997. Articles 2, 19 and 85 of the Basic Law expressly provide that an independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, is exercised by the Judiciary, free from any interference. Judges from other common law jurisdictions are permitted, hence the prominence of foreign judges in Hong Kong courts, further enhancing the legitimacy of our transparent and fair legal system.

Following the enactment of the National Security Law, there has been no shortage of baseless criticisms and distortion of the facts regarding the selection of designated judges who handle cases relating to national security. First of all, the input of the chief executive is limited to establishing a list or panel of suggested judges for dealing with national security cases. Second, the listing and handling of national security cases, as well as the assignment of judges to cases, remains strictly the judicial functions to be exercised by the Judiciary independently. These processes all reduce the risk of erroneous or arbitrary applications of law and are conducive to upholding the rule of law.

The hypocrisy of the US and its claims of our government mistreating protestors has been laid bare in the recent arrests of 17 members of Congress, including Democratic representatives Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, during a protest outside the Supreme Court concerning the overturning of Roe vs Wade and its implications on abortion rights. These arrests were made during a peaceful protest against, ironically, the human rights abuses associated with prohibiting abortion across the US. Contrast this with the arrests and judicial proceedings made under the National Security Law in Hong Kong, which aim to curb the social instability, and the wanton destruction and violence against innocent people that was widespread during the insurrection street riots of 2019.

In another example of the hypocrisy of the US judicial system, incidences of racially targeted police brutality are downplayed by US state governments despite constant calls for reforms from the American media and youth. While the US has obligated itself to comply with several international treaties, such as Article 2 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in an effort to promote its compliance with human rights standards and opposition toward racial discrimination, stories of Michael Brown and the numerous other victims of police brutality and racial profiling raise serious concerns about whether the human rights of African Americans are genuinely respected by its enforcement authorities.

In comparison, the Hong Kong Police Force has exercised maximum restraint in restoring order and protecting public infrastructure and private property during the 2019 violent street riots of radical activists, many of them instigated and supported by foreign forces. In contrast to the multiple fatalities caused by police officers dealing with smaller scale street riots in other places at the time, our finest did not inflict a single fatality despite the intensity and duration of the insurrection. Time after time, the US has been hypocritical in its incongruent treatment of foreign and domestic affairs, blatantly virtue-signaling so-called democratic ideals that it does not practice on its own turf.

As Hong Kong is an international financial, shipping and trade center in the Asia-Pacific region, it is vital that the city defend the integrity of its legal system and the rule of law to maintain its competitive appeal. As a Legislative Council member, it is my duty to critically engage with the government to ensure that the rights of Hong Kong residents are protected. Hence, I must condemn all acts of foreign aggression in attempting to undermine Hong Kong’s stability, and the recent actions by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China are no exception.

The constitutional foundation upon which our judicial independence is premised will not be shaken by foreign interference. With a strong, independent and professional legal sector, our judicial system will continue to remain intact and inviolate. Whatever happens, it lies in all of us here in Hong Kong to ensure that the foundation is preserved and judicial independence remains honored.

The author is a member of the Legislative Council representing the Legal Functional Constituency. He is the managing partner of the Grandall Zimmern Law Firm, and a former president of the Hong Kong Law Society.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.