File photo taken on June 29, 2020 shows a billboard promoting the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the Central district in Hong Kong. (Photo/Xinhua)
CE Lee to seek China's top legislature's interpretation on national security law
Hong Kong's Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu on Monday said he will seek the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress — the nation's top legislature — to interpret Article 65 of the National Security Law for Hong Kong after the city's top court ruled in favor of allowing Jimmy Lai Chee-ying to have a British lawyer defend him in his upcoming trial.
Expressing full support for Lee's move, central government departments stressed the significance of ensuring the comprehensive and accurate implementation of the National Security Law.
Earlier on Monday, the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong's top court, upheld a lower court's decision to allow Lai, founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, to hire British barrister Timothy Owen as his counsel in his upcoming national security trial, which will start on Thursday.
Lai faces four charges, including colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security — one of the three charges that he is charged under the National Security Law for Hong Kong.
Meeting the media hours after the court judgment, Lee said he hopes the NPCSC will clarify whether lawyers or barristers who are not qualified to practice generally in Hong Kong can be permitted to participate in national security law cases under any circumstances.
Lee said he received a request from the central government to hand in a report on the HKSAR's efforts in safeguarding national security and he would bring the issue up in the report.
Lee said he respects the ruling of the CFA. But as the city's CE and head of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of HKSAR, he has a duty to raise the request when there is a question that needs to be clarified, especially as national security is of primary significance and must be clarified, he said.
Lee said that under the current regulation, the SAR has no effective way to make sure that foreign lawyers will not leak State secrets, nor is the city able to ensure that foreign lawyers will not be subject to influence, coercion or pressure from foreign governments, organizations or individuals.
In support of Lee's decision, a spokesperson of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council said that it fully embodied Lee's sense of responsibility as the top leader of the HKSAR.
The spokesperson noted that what Lai and his cohorts did in the 2019 social unrest severely trampled on Hong Kong's legal system and undermined national sovereignty and safety.
Hong Kong courts' decisions in granting a British barrister permission to handle Lai's national security case have contradicted the SAR judiciaries' duty to safeguard national security under the National Security Law, and also breached the original intention and legal logic of the law, said the spokesperson.
Also pledging full support for Lee's decision, the spokesperson of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region said by allowing foreign barristers, who are not allowed to fully practice in the city, to engage in national security cases of colluding with foreign forces opens the door to foreign intervention and impairs the reputation of local law practitioners and Hong Kong's rule of law.
Lee's plan received support from Hong Kong political heavyweights and social groups. Leung Chun-ying, vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the ground laid by the court to allow the barrister from the United Kingdom to defend the national security case is utterly wrong and would have far-reaching implications.
Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong delegate to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, who participated in the deliberation of the draft of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, said he felt disappointment at the CFA's ruling and said it is "completely inappropriate "to allow a foreign attorney to handle significant national security cases.
Local group Politihk Social Strategic protested against the CFA judgment outside the court building on Monday. The group said it has launched an online petition to rally support for the HKSAR to seek an NPCSC interpretation on the National Security Law. As of 5 pm on Sunday, 6,877 Hong Kong residents had signed the petition.