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We must hold Beijing to account for its chilling efforts to weaponise the law in Hong Kong

Several lawyers have had their rights to practice revoked simply for defending innocent pro-democracy activists, writes Ian Paisley MP. | PA Images

3 min read

The British government must impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on those senior officials in Hong Kong who are responsible for this deep injustice and the weaponisation of law in Hong Kong.

Democracy and freedom are both sacrosanct to the people of Northern Ireland. We understand both their importance and their value.  

We are not alone in valuing these basic freedoms, protected by a coherent and well-functioning legal system. Millions of people across the world feel likewise and nowhere are they under greater threat than in Hong Kong. Fundamental freedoms and basic human rights have been exposed to brutal abuse in Hong Kong as the legal structure that was designed to protect them, has been weaponised. 

In Hong Kong, the law is under attack on many fronts. Since the National Security Law was imposed onto Hong Kong by Beijing in June 2020, the city’s once internationally respected and morally robust Basic Law has been replaced by a new oppressive and draconian legal framework. This framework is filled with strategic ambiguities which have enabled the authorities to detain anyone deemed an opponent of Beijing. Consequently, hundreds have been arrested and some have been detained in unknown locations. Many have not been seen or heard from since. 

For any legal system to be just and fair on the most basic level, it must allow defendants to adequately defend themselves, and the prosecution to meaningfully articulate their case. Yet in Hong Kong, even this has been compromised. Several lawyers have had their rights to practice revoked simply for defending innocent pro-democracy activists. 

Respect for the rule of law in Hong Kong is a dying concept

This disbarment sends a chilling message to lawyers across the city: legal professions must facilitate Beijing’s legal takeover of Hong Kong or they will be considered complicit in the pro-democracy movement and must face the consequences. 

Lawyers who defend pro-democracy figures have faced open intimidation. As you might rightly assume, lawyers tasked with prosecuting such figures, and judges who hear their court cases, have also been intimidated into siding with Beijing.  

This has occurred most infamously in the case of Jimmy Lai, the pro-democracy media mogul who founded the widely circulated newspaper ‘Apple Daily’. He’s been detained for his pro-democracy activism. Ahead of his hearing, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam held a private meeting with the city’s top judge responsible for his sentencing. Although the judge claimed that Lai’s case was not discussed, Carrie Lam’s interference is clear. The motive behind this suspiciously timed private meeting cannot be more obvious and the poor cover up attempt is insulting to the democratic world.  

More recently, Ren Quanniu, a lawayer who represented several pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong received a court notice on Tuesday revoking his right to practice law. Respect for the rule of law in Hong Kong is a dying concept.  

Beijing’s poisonous influence can also be seen in other sectors. Journalists have had their powers to report stripped when they have refused to write what the authorities want them to. Politicians have been deselected when they have not willingly accepted the political takeover of Hong Kong. The educational curriculum has been entirely re-written to omit any mention of democracy or protest in an attempt to “protect young minds” from independent thought. 

This takeover stems from the abandonment of the rule of law, and is unacceptable. I urge the British government to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on those senior officials in Hong Kong who are responsible for this deep injustice and the weaponisation of law in Hong Kong. We have a moral, legal and historic duty to stand with Hongkongers in their darkest hour. We must uphold this duty. 

Law as a concept was established to protect the good of society and the universal rights upon which we all depend. When the law and such rights are threatened anywhere in the world, they are jeapordised everywhere in the world. The UK must act now if it is to stand on the right side of history. 


Ian Paisley is the Democratic Unionist Party MP for North Antrim.

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