Pro-Beijing scholar Lau Siu-kai has said that Beijing may step in to transfer “significant national security cases” in Hong Kong for trial in mainland China if proposed US sanctions on members of the city’s Judiciary were to disrupt normal court proceedings.

Lau’s remarks came after a bipartisan group of US lawmakers sought to impose sanctions on 49 Hong Kong judges, prosecutors, and government officials to hold them “accountable for human rights violations.”

Lau Siu-kai
Lau Siu-kai, a consultant for Beijing’s semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macao Studies. File Photo: CUHK.

They included Secretary for Justice Paul Lam, the Secretary General of the the city’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security Sonny Au, and Police Commissioner Raymond Siu, as well as judges and prosecutors involved in the high-profile 47 democrats’ national security proceedings.

Lau, a consultant for semi-official Beijing think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macao Studies, said in Cantonese on Sunday on Commercial Radio that the central government had been closely following development of the bill, and had prepared “a last resort” in Article 55 of national security law.

According to that article of the security legislation, Beijing may transfer national security cases to the Office for Safeguarding National Security (OSNS), or even to courts in mainland China, if foreign forces were found to be interfering in those cases, Lau said.

Jimmy Lai Apple Daily
Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The OSNS is the central government’s national security office in Hong Kong, and was set up in July 2020 after the Beijing-imposed legislation came into effect.

Lau did not specify which national security cases may be transferred, but he said that as the landmark case involving the founder of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, media mogul Jimmy Lai, was soon set to get underway, some US lawmakers were using it to “smear the international reputation of mainland China and Hong Kong. “

Lai’s trial is set to get going on December 18 and is expected to last for around 80 days. Lai was first arrested under the national security law in early August 2020 and was formally charged in December 2020. He has been detained since then.

American Congresswoman Young Kim. Photo: Wiki Commons.
American Congresswoman Young Kim. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Young Kim, US representative and a Republican who introduced the Hong Kong Sanctions Act along with representatives Jim McGovern and John Curtis, mentioned Lai’s case in a press release about the bill.

“Jimmy Lai’s case is unfortunately just the latest example of Beijing exploiting its ‘national security law’ to exert control of Hong Kongers,” Young, who chairs the US House Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific said. “I am proud to lead the Hong Kong Sanctions Act so the United States can take strong, decisive action to support the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong and hold officials accountable in violation of human rights,” she said.

Police officers
Police officers stationed outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building as the national security trial against 47 democrats continues on April 24, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

In response, Hong Kong authorities condemned the proposed bill. “The HKSAR despises any so-called ‘sanctions’ and shall never be intimidated,” a spokesperson said in a statement issued last Friday.

Separately, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security accused some US politicians of “grossly interfering” in Hong Kong affairs in a statement issued on Sunday evening.

“We firmly oppose any foreign countries or external forces interfering in the affairs of the HKSAR in any manner. Any attempt to interfere is unpopular and doomed to fail,” a committee spokesperson said.

Siu Chak-yee, the commissioner of police, said in a statement also issued on Sunday that the US “hegemonism is doomed to fail” and the move “will only make the HKPF [Hong Kong Police Force] even more determined and fearless in defending the spirit of the rule of law in Hong Kong and safeguarding national security.”

Article 55

Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution in June 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, led to hundreds of convictions amid new legal precedents, whilst dozens of civil society groups disappeared. The authorities say it restored stability and peace to the city, rejecting criticism from trade partners, the UN and NGOs, despite an overall rise in crime.

National Security Education Day 2023
National Security Education Day 2023 in Hong Kong. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Article 55 of national security law stipulates three circumstances that the OSNS can “exercise jurisdiction” over Hong Kong national security cases, including complex cases involving foreign countries, a situation which rendered the Hong Kong government unable to enforce the law, or if “a major and imminent” threat to national security occurred.

After transfer to the OSNS, Beijing could assign a prosecuting body to prosecute the case and a court to hear the case. Relevant Chinese laws would also be applied.

To date, Article 55 has not been activated.

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Irene Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press and has an interest in covering political and social change. She previously worked at Initium Media as chief editor for Hong Kong news and was a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation serving the underprivileged. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Fudan University and a master’s degree in social work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Irene is the recipient of two Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards and three honourable mentions for her investigative, feature and video reporting. She also received a Human Rights Press Award for multimedia reporting and an honourable mention for feature writing.