Hong Kong high lawyer leaves metropolis abruptly after police questioning

Considered one of Hong Kong’s most outstanding British attorneys has left town abruptly after being questioned by nationwide safety police, casting a “chilling impact” over the monetary centre’s authorized occupation as authorities crack down on political dissent.

Former Hong Kong bar affiliation head Paul Harris turned a goal for pro-Beijing politicians and state-run media, who accused him of being “anti-China” for suggesting modifications to a nationwide safety legislation. The sweeping laws, which was launched in 2020, has paved the best way for the erosion of the Chinese language territory’s freedom of expression and autonomy.

Whereas Harris had been anticipated to go away Hong Kong early this yr, his sudden departure this week is ready to lift additional considerations in regards to the influence of the safety legislation on freedom of speech.

Hong Kong was promised political freedoms through the 1997 handover of town from the UK to China and has maintained a standard legislation authorized system, which international companies regard as underpinning its standing as a regional monetary centre.

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“It’s apparent he [Harris] has been chased out of Hong Kong,” a senior lawyer stated, including that some within the authorized neighborhood had been contemplating whether or not it was nonetheless protected to stay within the metropolis. “That is horrifying . . . it does have a silencing impact, this rule by concern is having an incredible impact on us.”

Harris has labored on a sequence of profitable human rights instances in opposition to the Hong Kong authorities. He’s additionally an affiliate tenant of Doughty Avenue Chambers in London, which was based by Geoffrey Robertson QC, the human rights barrister, and is thought for its civil liberties work.

Wen Wei Po, a state-run newspaper tied to Beijing’s consultant workplace in Hong Kong, revealed a video of Harris on the metropolis’s airport on Tuesday night time. Following him round whereas he ready to undergo the departure gates, a reporter requested him why he was leaving Hong Kong “so out of the blue”.

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Harris was questioned by nationwide safety police on Tuesday over his function in a human rights non-government organisation he based in 1995, in line with Chinese language media. He didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Forward of the introduction of the safety legislation, which adopted a yr of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the federal government assured town’s inhabitants that it will not apply the laws retrospectively.

Harris stepped down as the pinnacle of town’s Bar Affiliation in January after serving only one yr within the publish. Many civil society leaders in Hong Kong have been threatened over their roles of their respective organisations, main them to resign or shut their teams altogether for the reason that safety legislation got here into place.

Amongst his many instances, Harris had been representing pro-democracy activists. “It could be horrible to provide the impression that individuals simply doing their skilled obligation . . . are doing one thing not fairly proper or disapproved of,” stated a second senior lawyer.

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The lawyer was referring to the precept that everybody has the precise to authorized illustration and attorneys shouldn’t undergo recriminations for the shoppers they symbolize.

Harris’ departure got here as a pro-democracy activist was convicted on Wednesday for talking and displaying slogans now banned by Hong Kong’s authorities in wake of town’s crackdown on freedom of expression.

A Hong Kong decide dominated that insults to the native authorities had been additionally an assault on Beijing, within the first conviction utilizing a colonial-era sedition legislation since 1997.

Tam Tak-chi, a pro-democracy activist and former radio host, was discovered responsible of 11 expenses together with uttering seditious phrases, together with the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our occasions”, a slogan that was in style through the 2019 pro-democracy protests.

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