China: Only Communist Courts Can Interpret Hong Kong Law

Demonstrators wearing masks gather during an anti-government protest in Hong Kong, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Defying a police ban, thousands of black-clad masked protesters are streaming into Hong Kong's central shopping district for another rally demanding autonomy in the Chinese territory as Beijing indicated it could tighten its grip. (AP …
AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Chinese authorities berated the High Court of Hong Kong on Monday for ruling that banning face coverings in public is “unconstitutional,” claiming that only Beijing’s communist lawmakers have the right to rule on such matters.

In their ruling on Monday, two high court judges ruled that the emergency legislation imposing a ban on face masks in public areas that came into effect last month was incompatible with Hong Kong’s Basic Law. They also ruled that the law had violated people’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

“The need for an urgent response is no justification for departing from or impugning the constitutional scheme,” the judges wrote in their ruling “We believe [the ordinance] is not compatible with the constitutional order laid down by the Basic Law.”

The Basic Law is essentially the city’s constitution. Under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, Hong Kong is not a sovereign entity, but China cannot impose its laws there.

In response, local authorities confirmed that they would impose a temporary ban on the masks after prosecutors sought adjournment “to consider the situation.”

The ruling sparked a furious reaction from Beijing. Jian Tiewei, a spokesperson for the Chinese legislative affairs commission, declared that the National People’s Congress had the sole authority to rule on constitutional matters in the region. The National People’s Congress is the chief lawmaking body of China.

“Whether the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region comply with the Basic Law of Hong Kong can only be judged and decided by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress,” said Jian. “No other authority has the right to make judgments and decisions.”

Jian added that the ruling “severely weakened the governance” of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who was appointed by China on the basis that she would bow to Beijing’s demands.

He did not explain how giving the Chinese legislature sole power to write and interpret Hong Kong law fits into the “One Country, Two Systems” policy.

According to the Chinese state propaganda outlet Global Times, the verdict will “further disrupt the value of right from wrong in Hong Kong society and make some people show more sympathy to rioters, instead of stepping up their criticism of violence.”

“Opposition in the city has always accused the police of ‘abuse of force,’ but never condemned those rioters who sabotage the city and attack the police lethally,” the Times argued. “The court’s verdict will let the opposition believe that this is their victory.”

Hong Kong has experienced widespread civil unrest since early June when pro-democracy activists took to the streets to oppose an extradition bill that would have permitted criminal suspects to be sent to China for trial. The protesters have since added four demands, including the direct election of lawmakers to ensure control over what laws get written, to their list.

“The growing violence has almost destroyed the rule of law in and the modernity of Hong Kong. The city is at its last gasp as an international financial center. And the current ruling has closed its door to the emergency room,” the Times continued. “It is a pity that some judges in Hong Kong have not fully fulfilled their responsibility to jointly fight violence.”

Although Carrie Lam has since scrapped the proposal, the demonstrations have continued for the four other demands.

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