This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Hong Kong police have charged pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai with “collusion with foreign forces” under a national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1.
Lai, 73, who was already remanded in custody pending fraud charges over his company Next Digital’s management of its property lease, is the fourth person to be charged under the law.
The charge is being brought under Article 29 of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, which criminalizes peaceful dissent, as well as overseas fundraising, cooperation, and lobbying activities linked to Hong Kong by groups and individuals anywhere in the world.
The charge of “colluding with foreign forces” carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment in cases deemed “serious” by judges, who are hand-picked by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam.
University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung said the national security law was never a product of Hong Kong’s legislative processes, as it was imposed on the city by the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee, which has the final say in cases brought under the law.
Article 29 forbids “collaboration with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security” and “requesting that foreign powers or institutions impose sanctions, blockades or otherwise take action against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or the People’s Republic of China.”
“This law is based on the mainland Chinese legal system, so the power of interpretation lies with the NPC standing committee,” Cheung said.
He said there are concerns that the actions forming the basis for the charge may have taken place before the law took effect, amid growing concern that it will be applied retroactively.
“When is Jimmy Lai accused of doing these things?” Cheung said. “Was it before or after the end of June? Will the law be retroactive?”
“That has never happened before in Hong Kong, and there should be guarantees under human rights law that this should not happen, but mainland law is a bit different,” he said.
Freedom of speech threatened
Patrick Poon, a former Chinese researcher with Amnesty International, said there is scant difference between the wording and concepts that make up Hong Kong’s national security law, and the kinds of charges brought against peaceful dissidents and rights activists in mainland China, who are frequently jailed under national security laws.
“Calling for sanctions should come under freedom of speech. After all, it’s not as if a government will impose sanctions just because a particular group asks them to,” Poon said. “It’s totally absurd.”
“This means that any non-government organization (NGO) is in danger of being targeted in future,” he said.
Tong Ying-kit, 23, who is accused of driving a motorbike into a group of police officers while flying a pro-independence flag on July 1, was the first person to be arrested under the new law. He has been charged with “terrorism” and “secession.”
Independence activist Tony Chung, 19, was later charged with “secession” over comments he is said to have made on social media, while food delivery driver Ma Chun-man, 30, was charged with “inciting secession” after he shouted pro-democracy slogans.
Meanwhile, authorities in Beijing said they had detained an employee of Bloomberg News on suspicion of “endangering state security.”
Haze Fan, a veteran journalist who could only work as a “news assistant” for foreign media under Chinese law, was taken away from her apartment building by plainclothes security officials, Bloomberg reported on Friday.
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, on Thursday received confirmation that Fan is being held on suspicion of participating in activities endangering national security, the agency said.
A Bloomberg spokesman said: “We are very concerned for her, and have been actively speaking to Chinese authorities to better understand the situation. We are continuing to do everything we can to support her while we seek more information.”