Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao has been criticised by one of the city’s top officials over a comic strip about Beijing’s recent interpretation of the national security law.

China’s top law-making body the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued legislative interpretations of two articles of the sweeping security legislation last Friday on whether foreign counsels not qualified to practise in Hong Kong are allowed to take part in national security cases.

Eric Chan
Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The interpretation did not dictate whether overseas lawyers’ participation in such cases was permitted, but instead gave powers to Hong Kong’s chief executive and the Committee for Safeguarding National Security to decide on the matter.

The comic, authored by Wong Kee-kwan, who works under the pen name Zunzi, and published on Thursday depicted two people discussing the interpretation. In it, one of the characters said the interpretation did not grant the chief executive extra powers, but “only confirmed that the chief executive and the committee could do whatever they want.”

In a Facebook post published on Thursday night, Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan said the government “deeply regretted” the comic, which made “biased, misleading, and false accusations” towards the “constitutional responsibility of the chief executive to safeguard national security.”

“It is completely wrong and misleading for the comic to depict the NPCSC interpretation as allowing the chief executive to do ‘whatever he wants’,” Chan’s post read.

“The interpretation abided by the principle of the rule of law, and did not harm the court’s independent judiciary power or basic human rights such as the right to a fair trial,” the post read.

Zunzi's comic strip about the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress interpretation on the national security law
Zunzi’s comic strip about the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress interpretation on the national security law published January 5, 2023. Photo: Ming Pao, via screenshot.

Chan’s criticism on Thursday was the latest in a string of official disapproval towards Ming Pao. The government, on at least two separate occasions last year, expressed “deep regret” and “concern” over an opinion piece and comic published by the newspaper.

The Beijing interpretation was issued following Chief Executive John Lee’s invitation, after attempts by the secretary for justice to block King’s Counsel Timothy Owen’s admission in the national security trial against media tycoon Jimmy Lai failed.

Lai, who faces four charges under the Beijing-imposed national security law and the colonial-era sedition law, could face life imprisonment if convicted. The trial has been adjourned to September.

The media tycoon is currently serving five years and nine months in jail after being convicted of fraud. The 75-year-old was also previously sentenced to a total of 20 months in jail over other protest-related charges. He has been detained since December 2020.

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Candice Chau

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.