Beijing to handle 'rare' HK national security cases under new law

HONG KONG • China will have jurisdiction over "some extremely rare" national security cases in Hong Kong under a new law to be imposed on the semi-autonomous city, a senior official said yesterday.

But he said Hong Kong's national security legislation will not punish people retroactively.

The revelation comes just three days ahead of a major meeting of China's top lawmaking body.

Beijing has signalled that the new national security law, which will bypass Hong Kong's legislature, needs to be passed quickly following a year of pro-democracy protests.

Mr Deng Zhonghua, deputy head of China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said enforcing the law would largely fall to Hong Kong's local authorities and police.

"However, the central authorities should also reserve jurisdiction over some extremely rare cases when an offence takes place in Hong Kong and poses a serious threat to China's national security," Mr Deng said in a speech in Shenzhen to the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies think-tank.

Under a "one country, two systems" agreement ahead of the 1997 handover by Britain, China said it would let Hong Kong maintain certain liberties and autonomy until 2047, including legislative and judicial independence.

Mr Deng's comments mark the first time that a Beijing official has made clear that the Chinese authorities will have jurisdiction over some national security cases in Hong Kong once the law is passed.

Hong Kong was rocked by months of huge and often violent anti-government protests last year.

In response, Beijing has announced plans to impose the new law, which covers subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign influence.

Beijing says the law will return stability and leave political freedoms intact, noting that Hong Kong's legislature has failed to pass its own national security laws over the years.

But opponents, including many Western nations, fear it will bring political oppression, given how anti-subversion laws are said to be used routinely to crush dissent in China.

They also fear it will start the erosion of Hong Kong's legislative and judicial autonomy.

Beijing's Parliament has said the law will allow mainland security agencies to publicly operate in Hong Kong for the first time.

Mr Deng gave further details yesterday. "Both the central government and the Hong Kong government need to set up an organisation dedicated to safeguard national security," he said.

The central authorities, he added, would help "supervise and instruct" the local authorities on enforcing national security.

"The central authorities must have practical means to handle national security cases in Hong Kong and must be able to create an effective deterrence," Mr Deng said.

He said he recognised there were differences in the legal systems of Hong Kong and China.

He noted that the new law would reflect common principles, including "principles such as presumption of innocence, the right for criminal suspects and defendants to have legal defence, and laws not being applied retrospectively".

Reacting to Mr Deng's speech, pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok said he believed the jurisdiction plan would breach the city's mini-Constitution, which says Hong Kong's judiciary is independent from China.

"I think this is... clear evidence that they are using this law as a label to quash political opposition," he told reporters.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2020, with the headline 'Beijing to handle 'rare' HK national security cases under new law'. Print Edition | Subscribe