Beijing gives Hong Kong chief more powers in security case

HONG KONG (AP) — Beijing ruled Friday that Hong Kong’s chief executive has the power to decide whether foreign lawyers can participate in national security cases in the city — a decision that could effectively prevent a prominent pro-democracy publisher from hiring a British barrister His high-profile trial.

According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, China’s top legislature issued a legal interpretation targeting overseas lawyers who normally do not practice in the city. Its decision could overturn an earlier Hong Kong Supreme Court ruling that allowed Jimmy Lai, the founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily, to hire Timothy Owen to defend him under the national security law imposed by Beijing. allegations of collusion.

Friday’s ruling marks the sixth time the Communist-ruled central government has stepped in with the legal affairs of the former British colony, which promised a “high degree of autonomy” and 50 years of judicial independence when it returned to China in 1997.

Beijing is dealing with a request by Hong Kong’s chief executive, Lee Kar-chao, seeking a legal explanation hours after the city’s top court rejected the government’s objection to having Mr. Owen stand on behalf of Jimmy Lai.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress said the city’s courts must obtain a certificate from city leaders as to whether foreign lawyers can handle such cases, state media reported.

It added that if the court does not do so, then the municipal committee for maintaining national security, chaired by the city leadership, should decide.

The national security law criminalizes acts of succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. It led to the arrest of many prominent democracy activists and undermined confidence in the future of this international financial center.

Lai was sentenced on December 10 to five years and nine months in prison in a separate fraud case, in which he was charged with conspiring to impose sanctions or embargoes, or engaging in hostile activities against Hong Kong or China. He also faces charges of colluding with a foreign power to endanger national security and a separate charge of sedition under colonial-era laws that have been increasingly used to suppress dissent.

His trial, which was scheduled to begin on Dec. 1, has been postponed until September 2023 as the city awaits a decision from Beijing.

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