Beijing’s top office in Hong Kong has said that the Hong Kong Bar Association “should stop veering off the road of politicisation” after the legal body’s chairperson criticised the sentencing of veteran democrats over two unauthorised assemblies in August 2019.

The spokesperson for the China Liaison Office said on last Friday that Paul Harris, head of the Hong Kong Bar Association, had “spread distorted opinion, blatantly supported those who violated law, excusing those using violence, smearing law enforcement, and putting pressure on the judiciary.”

Paul Harris
Paul Harris, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association. Photo: StandNews.

The comments came after Harris said in an interview with Stand News that the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations will lead to people turning to “very damaging channels, which can include violence.”

Harris commented on the sentencing of ten democrats for two unauthorised protests on August 18 and August 31 in 2019, including “father of democracy” Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

“It seems to be the first time that imprisonment has been imposed for an entirely peaceful unauthorised procession,” said Harris. “In the past, the offence has usually been punished with a fine.”

“People have strong feelings and they need to find an outlet for those feelings, a peaceful demonstration is an outlet. If you don’t allow it, those feelings will not go away.”

‘Road of no return’

In response, the China Liaison Office said that Harris “used so-called ‘peaceful demonstration’ to cover and polish its illegal essence.”

Martin Lee West Kowloon Magistrates Court
Martin Lee leaving the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on April 16, 2021. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The spokesperson also said that “if the Hong Kong Bar Association continue to be manned by foreign politicians who have lost their professional conduct such as Paul Harris, it will only be caught in one’s own trap, and go on a road of no return.”

State-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao also citied on Monday pro-Beijing figures such as former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and lawmaker Priscilla Leung urging the Bar Association to cut ties with Harris.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.