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Vague or clear? Legal experts and politicians debate the red lines of Beijing’s National Security Law three years after its enactment

As Hong Kong enters its third year under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law (NSL), a panel of legal experts and politicians gathered at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) to discuss its effect on the city. 

Sitting on the panel were John Burns, Honorary Professor of Politics and Public Administration at The University of Hong Kong (HKU); Albert Chen, Chair of Constitutional Law at HKU; former Legislative Council member Emily Lau; and Senior Counsel/Executive Council member Ronny Tong. The talk was moderated by FCC President Lee Williamson. 

“When it comes to Hong Kong, the sky falls down,” said Tong when pointing out the support behind other countries’ national security efforts and the criticism Hong Kong’s NSL receives from the international community. 

Ronny Tong and Lee Williamson. Photo: FCC

Burns agreed that all states must ensure national security, however he emphasised that interpretation was key in how national security laws are enforced. He believes that the local government has been using the NSL to intimidate the public and encourage self-censorship, ultimately changing political behavior in the city despite how vague he finds the NSL to be. 

John Burns. Photo: FCC

Chen, on the other hand, described NSL offenses as “narrowly-defined” and added that most of the ongoing cases dealt with sedition, not the NSL. He explained that sedition falls under the Crimes Ordinance, which has been a part of Hong Kong’s legal system since the city’s days as a British colony. 

“Political offenses are not subject to extradition,” Chen said when asked about the eight self-exiled activists who are wanted by Hong Kong’s national security police. 

Albert Chen. Photo: FCC

He added that returning the wanted activists to Hong Kong would only work if the countries they fled to had extradition agreements with the city, but that many countries had abolished their agreements due to the NSL. 

For Lau, the strongest critic on the panel, her biggest concern with the NSL is Article 29, which prohibits “provoking hatred” among Hong Kong residents towards the local and central governments. She argued that criticising the government does not equate to provoking hatred but that Article 29 implies as such. To her, this results in the criminalisation of free speech in Hong Kong. 

Lau also criticised the continued detention of the 47 Democrats who have now spent over 90 days in court. 

Emily Lau. Photo: FCC

“This is a question of humane treatment,” Lau said, citing this case as one of the “shockwaves” felt across Hong Kong since the NSL’s enactment along with the various news organisations and NGOs that have either disbanded or left the city. 

“I have strong faith in One Country, Two Systems, and the judiciary,” Tong repeated several times during the discussion. “As a lawyer myself, I know many of the judges and I don’t believe any of them are corrupt. If you think they are corrupt, please tell me.” 

The four panelists were also asked about their thoughts on Article 23, the potential ban of the 2019 protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong,” and “soft resistance.” 

Watch the full discussion on our YouTube channel:

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