Justice Secretary Paul Lam has said he is “100 per cent confident” that Hong Kong can handle the national security case against media tycoon Jimmy Lai, following suggestions that such cases could be transferred to China in response to proposed US sanctions.
Lam’s remarks came as he responded to a question from the media during Legal Week on Friday morning asking whether he was confident that Hong Kong courts could exercise jurisdiction over Lai’s case.
“Over the past three years, Hong Kong courts have handled trials of some national security cases. Can anyone who is reasonable say that judges did not adjudicate independently, remain loyal to their oath and pass sentence based on evidence and precedents? ” Lam said in Cantonese.
Pro-Beijing figures have raised the prospect of Beijing stepping in to handle Hong Kong’s national security cases if the proposed US sanctions go into force.
A group of bipartisan US lawmakers introduced a bill last Friday to sanction Hong Kong’s judges, prosecutors and the justice chief Lam, calling the case of Jimmy Lai “the latest example of Beijing exploiting its ‘national security law’.”
Lau Siu-kai, a consultant for semi-official Beijing think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macao Studies, said on Sunday that Beijing had prepared “a last resort” in Article 55 of the National Security Law, which states that cases may be transferred to mainland Chinese jurisdiction under certain circumstances such as foreign interference.
When asked whether the government was considering invoking Article 55, Lam said on Friday that the article was “an exceptional one” and in general Hong Kong exercises jurisdiction over national security cases.
“The public should not try to speculate as to what will happen, ” Lam said.
The landmark trial of Lai is scheduled to start on December 18. Lai, the founder of the defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, has been detained since December 2020, when he was formally charged following his earlier arrest under the security law.
The proposed US sanctions have sparked condemnation and protests by Hong Kong and Chinese officials and lawmakers over the past week. Liu Guangyuan, deputy director of China’s Liaison Office, called the US move ”ridiculous” when he gave a speech at Legal Week.
Liu said the proposed sanctions “violated the principle of international law”.
“Any attempts to disrupt the rule of law in Hong Kong and undermine the one country two systems principle are doomed to fail,” Liu said in English.
National security law is ‘vaccine’
Legal Week is an annual event hosted by the Department of Justice since 2019. This year’s event, the first since all Covid-19 restrictions were removed, saw 11,000 participants from 50 jurisdictions around the world, according to the justice chief.
Lam said that this year the event would feature a Q&A session on national security on Friday afternoon at which he would answer questions.
In a spech at the event he urged the public to view national security “seriously and positively”, adding that the national security law is like a “vaccination” against a virus.
“Acts endangering national security are similar to viruses; and national security law is the vaccination. It is sheer common sense that effective and sufficient vaccination against commonly known viruses are essential to protect our health and life.”
Correction 11/11/2023: An earlier version of this article misspelled Lau Siu-kai’s name. We regret the error.
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