D-Day for HK security law

Top News | Michael Shum 30 Jun 2020

A final draft of the national security law for Hong Kong is now with China's top legislative body, clearing the way for a vote on the bill today.

That comes after a second day of business for the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

It means the draft national security law can be expected to pass as the session wraps up on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's return from British to Chinese rule.

On a separate note, the police department to safeguard national security will be headed by a deputy police commissioner.

Sources said there are two options being considered.

One would see a senior officer promoted to the rank of deputy commissioner to head the department.

It is understood that Edwina Lau Chi-wai, currently director of management services, might be up for the job as she has experience working in the Security Bureau.

The other option would put either of the two deputy commissioners - Raymond Siu Chak-yee who is in charge of operations or Oscar Kwok Yam-shu in charge of management - to head the new department.

The head of the new department will report direct to Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung, according to sources.

At yesterday's meeting in Beijing, Li Fei, chairman of the National People's Congress Constitution and Law Committee, briefed the Council of Chairmen on suggested amendments to a draft compiled in previous meetings.

The council comprises officers who handle day-to-day work of the standing committee.

Stanley Ng Chau-pei, one of 10 Hong Kong NPC deputies at the meeting as observers, confirmed there were changes in the draft he saw yesterday morning. But he refused to provide specifics as discussions continued.

In Hong Kong, analyst Bruce Lui Ping-kuen noted that the submission of the final draft signals a vote is close with the expectation it is about to be passed.

"The council of chairmen passing the final draft to the standing committee is a sign they think the draft law has incorporated sufficient suggestions and is mature enough to be voted on," Lui said.

"Standing committee members will now scrutinize the final draft and rather than change fundamental principles make minor changes."

Earlier, Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah, also a senior counsel, addressed an element expected to be prominent in the final document.

He said a penalty of life imprisonment for secession and subversion against state power will not be surprising. "Secession and subversion are serious crimes that involve national security," Tong noted on radio. "In many countries the maximum penalty for national security cases is life imprisonment or even a death sentence.

"Therefore, the two charges should not be compared with charges like illegal assembly and rioting."

Tong also said it is highly unlikely that the law will be retrospective.

For Beijing has already said the national security law will be in line with the International Bill of Human Rights, which states that internal criminal laws should not be retrospective.

"But when it comes to gathering evidence, a suspect's past behavior might be considered to prove his or her motive," Tong added.

"For example, if someone keeps on advocating Hong Kong independence after the law takes effect what he or she did in the past will be relevant. But if he or she ceased from taking part in those acts he or she will not be prosecuted."

Still, Alan Leong Kah-kit, the Civic Party chairman and also a senior counsel, disagreed with Tong, saying the law is actually retrospective if remarks and behavior of a person before the law takes effect can be used against them.

"It is unacceptable and absurd to have a retrospective period for the law," Leong said. "How can they use what people have done before knowing the details of the law were disclosed to prove them guilty or even jail them?"

Editorial: Police on high alert before July 1 protest

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