Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A Hong Kong Judge’s Warning

This article in the Wall Street Journal is just the latest in a recent string of actions by Beijing, squashing down on Hong Kong's basic freedoms: freedom of press, freedom of speech, the rule of law.
Some of the comments on this article I find ignorant and mocking.  It really is the rule of law, freedom of conscience and freedom of the press that are the basis for Hong Kong's wealth and openness, and these were operational well before Hong Kong became entwined with China from the early 1980s.

A veteran jurist has delivered a grim verdict on the rule of law in Hong Kong. Four years after warning that the historically independent judiciary could face “a storm of unprecedented ferocity,” Judge Kemal Bokhary warned in a speech this week that his “fears have been realized, much as I wish that they were not.”
Judge Bokhary’s opinions are hard-earned. He served in Hong Kong’s judiciary for nearly a decade before the 1997 handover to Chinese sovereignty, at which point he earned a permanent seat on the Court of Final Appeal. There he gained renown as the court’s conscience, which helps explain why local officials refused to renew his tenure in 2012, citing retirement age. They promptly replaced him with an older judge. 
The most consequential part of Judge Bokhary’s tenure came in 1999, in a case granting resident status to children born in Hong Kong to mainland Chinese mothers, when the Court asserted its role as final arbiter of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The Beijing government would have none of it. Within months it forced Hong Kong’s top court to back down, weakening the city’s ability to protect itself from further erosion of its civil liberties.
Beijing announced in June 2014 that judges in Hong Kong are mere “administrators” subject to a “basic political requirement” to love the country—that is, be loyal to the Communist Party. Beijing then defaulted on its promise to give Hong Kong meaningful universal suffrage, a decision announced with the August 2014 ruling of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee that sparked mass pro-democracy protests. 
Hong Kong became the jewel of Asia because Britain endowed the city with the unique combination of institutions—an independent judiciary, a free market, a free press—that allow societies to thrive. Judge Bokhary’s speech is an eloquent elegy for that city, and a warning of the Communist control that lies ahead.