US imposed sanctions based on highly subjective assessments of officials, Jimmy Lai’s Hong Kong trial hears

US imposed sanctions based on highly subjective assessments of officials, Jimmy Lai’s Hong Kong trial hears

The United States imposed “severe” sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials based on “highly subjective” assessments of their contributions to what was seen as the erosion of the city’s degree of autonomy, a legal scholar has argued in Jimmy Lai Chee-ying’s national security trial.

The prosecution on Friday read out two reports by City University Professor Wang Guiguo on the nature and impact of various US laws designed to penalise the alleged perpetrators of human rights violations in Hong Kong.

Wang referred to the 2019 Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and noted a non-American could be held responsible for undermining the city’s fundamental freedoms through the “extrajudicial rendition, arbitrary detention or torture of any person in Hong Kong” or “other gross violations of internationally recognised human rights”.

“The terms such as ‘responsible’, ‘arbitrary’, ‘gross’ et cetera are subject to highly subjective judgment. As they are to be interpreted in conjunction with other US laws, misinterpretation or even abuse cannot be avoided,” the professor argued.

“This in practice constitutes a coercion that furthers the already severe impacts of the intended sanctions under the [act].”

While no sanctions were passed under this authority, Wang stressed its actual effect should be viewed in conjunction with other punitive measures, including the Hong Kong Autonomy Act and an executive order that then-US president Donald Trump signed in July 2020.

He also criticised the US for waiving a confidentiality requirement in annual presidential reports submitted to Congress in relation to any visa application of sanctioned individuals, saying the move deprived them of their fundamental rights to privacy.

Wang compiled the two reports at the request of national security police who were investigating Lai and the anti-China conspiracy he allegedly orchestrated.

The 76-year-old Apple Daily founder has denied two conspiracy charges of collusion with foreign forces under the Beijing-decreed national security law, and a third of conspiracy to print and distribute seditious publications under colonial-era legislation.

Prosecutors contended Lai had used the now-defunct tabloid to instigate international sanctions and excite public disaffection towards the local government.

The mogul was also accused of providing financial assistance to the “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong” lobbying group to trigger China’s political and economic collapse.

City University Professor Wang Guiguo is an expert in Chinese and US law. Photo: City University

Wang, an expert in Chinese and US law, is a former city delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body, and the husband of pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun.

Lai’s defence team previously took issue with Wang’s eligibility for commenting on sanctions imposed by countries other than the US, but agreed that his presence in court could be excused provided that his two statements be redacted to include only his analyses of US legislations.

The reports listed out the measures adopted by Washington in response to the Hong Kong government’s handling of the 2019 social unrest and the adoption of the security law the following year.

Wang highlighted that Washington had sanctioned 42 Hong Kong and mainland officials since the Trump executive order in 2020. Such sanctions amounted to a complete deprivation of their property and economic rights, the professor argued.

Bilateral treaties covering the transfer of fugitives and reciprocal tax exemptions for international shipping were suspended, and imported goods produced in Hong Kong must now be marked to indicate China as their origin, the court heard.

Wang also noted the US in practice only targeted people in an official position without identifying what activities they actually did to undermine Hong Kong.

Such “undifferentiated identification” could “instantly” make those involved in government work the subject of sanctions, he added.

The trial resumes on Monday.



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