Court rulings authorize Hong Kong police to investigate older offenses under the Security Act – .

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Court rulings authorize Hong Kong police to investigate older offenses under the Security Act – .


Police ask supporters to leave during the court hearing of Tong Ying-kit, the first person charged under a new national security law near the High Court, in Hong Kong, China. July 30, 2021. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu / File Photo

HONG KONG, Oct. 19 (Reuters) – Recent court rulings have allowed Hong Kong authorities to use national security powers to enforce strict colonial-era laws as part of a crackdown on groups of opposition, alarming activists and lawyers in the city.

Police have opened investigations into acts that took place before the imposition of the National Security Law a year ago, despite assurances from Beijing and Hong Kong that the financial center’s legislation would not be retroactive.

The recent investigations have pissed off pro-democracy activists across the city, leaving some to fear prosecution for acts they believed to be legal at the time.

“The past is the future,” said Simon Young, a professor at the University of Hong Kong School of Law. “We are starting to see a more complete evolution of national security law and the way it allows authorities to look at old laws and past events from a new perspective.

“We can see this gives them new powers and a new confidence to use laws that may have been ignored or considered previously unenforceable. “

Several groups, including the veteran protest organizer Civil Human Rights Front, are under investigation for pre-security acts, according to statements by senior police officials and pro media reports. -Pekin.

Asked about police commissioner Raymond Siu’s statements that the Front was being investigated in pre-law marches, a force spokesperson told Reuters last month that “the police will continue to carry out marches. ‘investigate whether an organization and a person have violated (…) Hong Kong’s security law and other regulations ”.

Some legal scholars and lawyers say the situation reveals the full scope of the law – including its ability to effectively reset British colonial-era laws that affect national security.

Two paragraphs of recent court rulings appear to pave the way for security investigations into past actions, they warn.

A February decision by the Court of Final Appeal suggested that the National Security Act’s reference to “acts endangering national security” included violations of older laws.

And a district court ruling in April noted that under the Security Act, the older offense of sedition was now classified as a more serious felony, potentially removing its previous six-month statute of limitations.

“AUTHORITY GOLD MINE”

Beijing imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong last year, seeking to punish what it sees as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

But new police investigations into acts prior to the imposition of the law appear to trigger sometimes neglected legislation on crimes such as sedition, a law governing private groups and even anti-espionage legislation, according to criminal lawyers.

These powers include the right for the national security police to conduct searches and electronic surveillance, such as wiretapping, without going to court or seeking a warrant from a judge.

Asked about investigations into older offenses and the impact of court rulings, a police spokesperson said he would not comment on specific cases.

“In the conduct of any operation, the police will act on the basis of the actual circumstances and in accordance with the law,” the spokesperson said.

When the law was passed, senior Chinese and Hong Kong officials repeatedly stressed that it would not be applied retroactively.

Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam told the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2020 that the law was urgently needed to close a “gaping hole” in national security, but the presumption of innocence would be maintained and the law would have no retroactive effect.

Lam also told the UN that it would only affect “a very small minority” of Hong Kong.

Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Bureau of the State Council, said on July 1 last year that “the law is not retroactive.” The security provisions of the old laws would be used “to punish crimes which have already been committed and which endanger national security,” he said.

The intensification of the repression is forcing some important groups to disband, notably the Civil Front for Human Rights. Others are urgently destroying files and deleting photos and material online, saying they fear even once trivial details could be used against them under Hong Kong’s evolving security regime.

“The recent past is an authoritarian gold mine,” said a private investigator who has helped some groups protect themselves. “Basic rights and protections will count for little as the national security police construct their cases by retreating as they do forward. “

(Refiles stories to remove repeated words from the quote)

Reporting by Greg Torode. Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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