A senior Chinese officials said that Hong Kong’s laws must be ‘decolonized’ during a speech at the National Security Law Legal Forum (香港國安法法律論壇) on Monday (July 5).

The Forum, attended by high-ranking Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, marked the first anniversary since the introduction of the National Security Law (NSL).

The NSL was adopted by the CCP-controlled rubber-stamp legislature in Beijing in June 2020, and it has since been used to crack down on free speech, political organizations, and pro-democracy activists.

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Zhang Yong (張勇), deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, praised the NSL, calling it “effective”, and argued that “the comprehensive implementation of the legal system and the executive mechanisms for safeguarding national security must move one step further.”

“Hong Kong’s previous laws must be decolonized,” Zhang said. “This is also a pragmatic necessity in order to effectively safeguard national security” (香港原有法律去殖民化是必然要求,也是有效維護國家安全的現實需要).

Zhang warned that the NSL does not go far enough. He argued that Hong Kong’s legal system must be adjusted to mainland China’s, whose own national security law is broader in scope and lists 11 crimes of endangering national security, as opposed to the 4 crimes of Hong Kong’s legislation.

Deng Zhonghua (鄧中華), deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, gave another speech praising the NSL and attacking Hong Kong’s judicial system.

He claimed that after the introduction of the NSL, Hong Kong was able to “bring order out of chaos and thoroughly reform” (香港得以撥亂反正、正本清源) in the aftermath of the 2020 protests.

“Over the past year the government of the [Hong Kong] Special Administrative Region has actively fulfilled its principal responsibility of safeguarding national security, including through civil servants’ oath of allegiance, national security education, the revision of film inspection guidelines, the SIM card registration scheme, the strengthening of the monitoring of civil servants, education and the media,” he said.

Zhang’s speech appears to be the first time a government official has publicly acknowledged that the controversial SIM card registration scheme, which requires buyers of pre-paid SIM cards to provide their real names, is part of the authorities’ attempt to tighten their grip on society.

He commended law-enforcement and judicial authorities for forming a “correct understanding of the NSL”.

“Granting bail should not be the rule, but the exception” (以不保釋為原則,保釋為例外), he argued, adding that the Hong Kong Department of Justice has the right to deny trial by jury in NSL cases, and that the police’s law-enforcement powers should be broadened.

Hong Kong’s legal system is based on the common law established by the British on the colony in the 1840s. It was regarded as one of the city’s strengths. As a book published in 2019, one year before the NSL was enacted, explained:

For Hong Kong, the legal system established by the British during the period of colonisation is widely seen as one of the more positive legacies of British rule over the territory.

With the return of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China on 1 July 1997, the common law legal tradition in Hong Kong is regarded as a major asset of the Special Administrative Region which is vital not only in preserving the freedoms and existing way of life of Hong Kong residents but also in placing Hong Kong on strong foundations as the city strives to preserve and enhance its regional and international significance in the wake of competition from other major metropolises both in Mainland China and elsewhere in Asia.

The transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997 has sought to largely preserve the existing laws and legal system of Hong Kong … (Lo, S. H. C., Cheng, K. K., Chui, W. H. (2019). The Hong Kong Legal System, introduction.)

The rights and freedoms of Hong Kong were enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by the United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1984. Article 2 of the Declaration states:

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The laws currently in force in Hong Kong will remain basically unchanged … The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law …

Read: The Rise and Decline of Hong Kong – From the British Colonial Era to the Chinese Communist Takeover

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