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Judges quit in Hong Kong as police enforce Beijing’s law

Three arrested for not standing while Chinese anthem plays
Police detain a woman who shouted slogans on a street in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on June 4, 2024. Police were patrolling around a Hong Kong park, once the site where tens of thousands would gather for an annual memorial of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, on the look-out for hints of remembrance of its 35th anniversary.

Police detain a woman who shouted slogans on a street in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on June 4, 2024. Police were patrolling around a Hong Kong park, once the site where tens of thousands would gather for an annual memorial of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, on the look-out for hints of remembrance of its 35th anniversary. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 10, 2024 05:08 AM GMT
Updated: June 10, 2024 05:21 AM GMT

Two former UK Supreme Court judges have tendered their resignations from Hong Kong’s judiciary amid the “political situation," a veiled reference to Beijing’s imposed National Security Law which has triggered a broad crackdown on dissent since it was imposed in mid-2020.

Resignation letters from Jonathan Sumption and Lawrence Collins were received late last week and accepted with “regret” by Chief Justice Andrew Cheung, a judiciary statement said.

“I have resigned from the Court of Final Appeal because of the political situation in Hong Kong,” Collins later told a legal commentator. “But I continue to have the fullest confidence in the court and the total independence of its members.”

The pair, both British lords, were the latest wave of judicial resignations as China continues to enforce its hardline policies over the former free-wheeling UK territory, prompting an outcry from human rights and civil society groups.

On June 7, two men and one woman aged 18 to 31 were bailed after allegedly insulting China’s national anthem during a 2026 World Cup Asian qualifier in Hong Kong for not standing when the Chinese national anthem was played at the beginning of the match.

The trio apparently turned their backs as the anthem played ahead of the June 6 night’s game, when Hong Kong went down to Iran 4-2, considered a violation of the National Anthem Law.

"A thoroughly peaceful act of protest is met with a heavy-handed police response"

“The police emphasize that anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the national anthem is committing a crime. Upon conviction, they may face a penalty of a fine of up to HK$50,000 [US$6,400] and imprisonment for up to three years,” a police statement said.

Amnesty International’s China Director Sarah Brooks said the arrests were just the latest in a string of incidents that have increasingly depicted Hong Kong as a police state, where residents are closely monitored for even the most minuscule sign of dissent and then punished heavily.

“Once again in Hong Kong, a thoroughly peaceful act of protest is met with a heavy-handed police response via a repressive law — in this case, the National Anthem Law — designed to muzzle freedom of expression,” she said.

“People’s right to express feelings about national anthems and other state symbols is well protected by international human rights law. Yet in Hong Kong, to ‘insult’ China’s national anthem is a crime, even if it involves the simple act of remaining seated."

Brooks also said those arrested for "insulting" China’s national anthem were targeted solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and the case against the three should be dropped immediately.

Last month, The Court of Appeal banned acts linked to the broadcast, performance, or distribution of the protest song "Glory to Hong Kong" which authorities say had become a “weapon” that was used to incite violence during protests in 2019 against the extradition bill.

The song, which caused a storm of controversy and was covered in several languages, was removed from some streaming platforms at China’s insistence. Last week, police detained a mime artist who made a public reference to the Tiananmen Massacre ahead of its 35th anniversary on June 4.

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