【Statement of the Progressive Lawyers Group on Beijing’s Serious Threat to ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the Hong Kong Government’s Mass Arrest of Pro-democracy Activists】
(scroll for English)
10. 香港警察特地挑出該15名人士（相關集會有成千上萬參與者），顯示其大搜捕行動經過計算 —— 是當局為懲罰民主派人士的政治信念而安排的樣辦，以報復該等人士參與反送中修例運動，及以恐吓形式阻止廣大市民行使其憲制保障的集會權利。
1. On 17 April, the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR (the “Liaison Office”) issued a statement (the “4/17 Statement”) that declared, among other things, that:
“The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council (the “HKMAO”) and the Liaison Office are agencies specifically authorised by the Central People’s Government (the “CPG”) to handle local affairs in Hong Kong. As a general matter, these offices are not considered “departments of the CPG” under Article 22 of the Basic Law (the “BL”) and as such they are empowered to exercise supervisory powers and take a views over various Hong Kong affairs, including matters concerning the HKSAR’s relations with the CPG, the appropriate implementation of the BL, the proper functioning of its political framework, and major issues affecting public interest. This is as much a part of the offices’ duties as it is within the respective powers conferred to them under China’s Constitution and the BL.”
2. The 4/17 Statement went on to reiterate the same allegations and criticisms made by the Liaison Office and the HKMAO in several coordinated statements issued on 13 April against opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong. The Liaison Office blasted “the likes of Dennis Kwok” for using filibuster tactics to paralyse the Legislative Council (“LegCo”), which it said was a breach of the official oath and amounted to the common law offence of “misfeasance in public office.”
In response to those earlier remarks made by the Liaison Office and the HKMAO, the Progressive Lawyers Group (the “PLG”) issued a rebuttal on 15 April calling them an affront to all three branches of the HKSAR government and a breach of the BL.
3. The PLG is gravely troubled by the 4/17 Statement. We believe it represents a blatant and deliberate attempt by the CPG to interfere in Hong Kong’s local affairs by distorting key provisions of the BL and disregarding the spirit of the “one country, two systems” framework enshrined therein.
The wording of Article 22(1) of the BL is clear:
“No department of the CPG and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the HKSAR administers on its own in accordance with this Law.” (emphasis added)
Section 3 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap. 1) (the “IGCO”) also makes clear that the Liaison Office is one of the “offices set up by the CPG in the HKSAR.”
4. As such, the declaration in the 4/17 Statement is not only legally wrong but also brazen in its intention to tighten Beijing’s grip on the city by unconstitutionally expanding the powers of the Liaison Office and the HKMAO.
The 4/17 Statement is also counterproductive. Following a protracted period of social unrest engendered by the controversial extradition amendment bill, the CPG’s attempt to justify its political ends by playing semantics with the BL will do nothing to restore public faith in the “one country, two systems” framework.
5. Instead of refuting the CPG’s erroneous views on Article 22, the HKSAR Government issued a hastily-written press release on 19 April (“Press Release”)concurring with the 4/17 Statement. In the Press Release, the HKSAR Government stated flatly, without explanation or analysis, that the Liaison Office was “not an office in the HKSAR set up by departments of the CPG’ as stated in Article 22(2) of the BL”
6. The Press Release deviates from the HKSAR Government’s long-held position and contradicts its own documents and speeches. For example:
a) in January 2007, the HKSAR Government issued an information note to the LegCo on “offices set up in the HKSAR by the CPG under Article 22 of the BL.” The note listed the Liaison Office, along with the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PRC in HKSAR and the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison as examples of such offices; and
b) in June 2018, Patrick Nip, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, responded to a lawmaker’s question at a LegCo proceeding: “We believe that [the Liaison Office] will, as always, follow the laws of HKSAR in accordance with the requirement stipulated in Article 22 of the Basic Law.”
7. We also note that hours before the Press Release, the HKSAR Government issued two earlier versions of the Press Release, the first of which referred to the Liaison Office as “an office set up by the CPG in the HKSAR under Article 22(2) of the BL.” That statement was abruptly deleted in the later versions.
8. The PLG is deeply disappointed by the HKSAR Government’s readiness to go along with the Liaison Office’s erroneous interpretation of the BL at the expense of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The HKSAR Government’s tendency to side with the CPG only works to confirm the perception that it blindly carries out political directives from Beijing without regard for the city’s interests.
9. To rub salt in the wound, within the same week of the constitutional bombshell sparked by the 4/17 Statement, the Hong Kong Police arrested 15 prominent pro-democracy activists and charged them with public order crimes including organizing and participating in an illegal assembly. Among the arrested were Martin Lee, S.C., the founding chairperson of the Democratic Party, Margaret Ng, author and prominent barrister, and Jimmy Lai, founder of One Media.
10. That the 15 individuals had been singled out by the Hong Kong Police (when hundreds of thousands of others also took part in the relevant assemblies) suggests that the mass arrest is a calculated move—a political spectacle staged by the authorities to punish pro-democracy activists for their political beliefs, exact retaliation for their involvement in the anti-extradition bill protest movement, and intimidate the general public from exercising its constitutionally protected right of assembly in future protests.
11. While the PLG is confident that the 15 arrestees will receive a fair trial in the court of law, it doesn’t alter the fact that the mass arrest is unjustified, vindictive and smacks of the kind of malicious arrest and selective prosecution suggestive of a police state.
12. The PLG calls on the HKSAR Government to stand up for the people of Hong Kong and push back on Beijing’s growing intervention. We call on the international community to pay closer attention to the situation in Hong Kong and speak up against the continued erosion of civil liberties and the high degree of autonomy that makes the city one of the world’s preeminent financial hubs.
The Progressive Lawyers Group
20 April 2020