Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

In Full: Top int’l lawyers condemn Hong Kong’s jailing of democracy activists as ‘a serious threat to the rule of law’

A group of 12 senior international lawyers from six countries have said that the imprisonment of local democracy activists Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law represented “a serious threat to the rule of law and a breach of the principle of ‘double jeopardy’ in Hong Kong.”

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow. File photo: In-Media.

In an open letter, the lawyers – from the UK, US, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Malaysia – stated that the city’s Public Order Ordinance violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The trio were jailed in August on unlawful assembly charges contained within the ordinance after they led a protest which gave rise to the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement street occupations.

The letter in full - click to view

As lawyers, we regard the imprisonment of Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law in Hong Kong as a serious threat to the rule of law and a breach of the principle of “double jeopardy” in Hong Kong – in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These student activists led the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014 – one of the most peaceful public protests the world has seen. Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were already punished by a court a year ago. Joshua and Nathan respectively served 80 and 120 hours of community service, and Alex received a three-week suspended sentence. Yet the Hong Kong government decided to reopen the case and sought tougher punishments.

The law under which they were charged, the Public Order Ordinance, has been criticized by the United Nations for “facilitat[ing] excessive restrictions” to basic rights, and is incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which applies to Hong Kong. Human rights organisations have long urged Hong Kong to revise the ordinance to comply with the ICCPR.

Serious concerns over the independence of the judiciary arise. Court of Final Appeal judge Kemal Bokhary warned of “storm clouds” over the judiciary five years ago.  Hong Kong’s judges want to protect its independence, but they face increasing pressure from Beijing. In 2014, China issued a White Paper declaring that Beijing has “comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong” – instead of “the high degree of autonomy” provided for in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution. China also announced that Hong Kong’s judges are merely “administrators” who must love the country and be “subject to oversight by the central government”. The independence of the judiciary, a pillar of Hong Kong, risks becoming a charade, at the beck and call of the Chinese Communist Party.

Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic freedoms, at the heart of the principle of “one country, two systems”, now face grave threats.

  1. Kirsty Brimelow QC
  2. Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC
  3. Sir Desmond De Silva QC
  4. Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC – former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
  5. Jared Genser – Freedom Now
  6. Justice Richard Goldstone (South Africa)
  7. Andrew Khoo (Malaysia)
  8. David Matas (Canada)
  9. Michael Mansfield QC
  10. Rajiv Menon QC
  11. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC – former chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic
  12. Patrick Burgess – President of Asia Justice and Human Rights

The lawyers also said that Beijing’s White Paper on Hong Kong was a threat to the independence of the judiciary, which “risks becoming a charade, at the beck and call of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Sir Desmond De Silva, Kirsty Brimelow QC and Lord Carlile of Berriew.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Sir Desmond De Silva, Kirsty Brimelow QC and Lord Carlile of Berriew.

The 2014 paper said that Beijing had “comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong,” which the lawyers claimed was at odds with the the high degree of autonomy promised in the 1974 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the city’s mini-constitution. 

“These student activists led the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014 – one of the most peaceful public protests the world has seen”

The lawyers include seven of the UK’s Queen’s Counsels including the Secretary of State for Justice Lord Falconer, the chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales Kirsty Brimelow, and Sir Geoffrey Nice who was chief prosecutor in the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. Also featured is Sir Desmond de Silva, the former UN chief war crimes prosecutor for Sierra Leone.

The other signatories include: Lord Carlile of Berriew, Jared Genser, Justice Richard Goldstone, Andrew Khoo, David Matas, Michael Mansfield and Rajiv Menon.

Hong Kong Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen said in August that Hong Kong respects judicial independence and slammed claims that the jailing of the Occupy trio amounted to political persecution: “I hope the public and the international community will continue to respect our independent judiciary and refrain from making baseless attacks.” In September, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said it was “extremely disturbing” for her to learn of UK politicians’ comments questioning the city’s judicial independence.

HKFP has contacted the Department of Justice for comment.

In Full: Top int'l lawyers condemn Hong Kong's jailing of democracy activists as 'a serious threat to the rule of law'