Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmakers seek to amend legislature’s house rules, in move set to further restrict their power

Ex-former Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan slammed the amendments as the pro-establishment camp "auto-castrating" their own power. 22:17, 4 February 2021

VICTORIA, Feb. 4, 2021:Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmakers are looking to further limit their own powers and toughen the house rules at the Legislative Council. The move comes months after the opposition quit en masse in protest. At a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, lawmakers explored amendments such as limiting the number of members allowed on committees. Paul Tse, chairman of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, said on Tuesday that the suggestions were to strike a “balance between the effective operation of the council and the right of speech of legislators.”

Suggestions included cancelling legislators’ power to call for a quorum count at meetings, limiting the number of members in committees to a maximum of 15, limiting the debate time for government and legislator bills, and setting adjournments to last between 1.5 and 4 hours only. Tse added that the President of the Legislative Council Andrew Leung would seek external legal advice to make sure that the amendments would be in accordance with the Basic Law and other legislation. The Legislative Council is currently devoid of any opposition lawmakers after the pro-democracy camp resigned en masse in solidarity with four of their colleagues who were disqualified by the government for allegedly endangering national security.

Tse said that the remaining lawmakers aimed to pass relevant amendments before the end of the current term of the Legislative Council. According to Ming Pao, former Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan slammed the amendments as the pro-establishment camp “auto-castrating” their own power, aimed at minimising any resistance in the legislature. Former pro-democracy lawmakers had previously used quorum counts as a means to filibuster. The Legislative Council rules of procedure were amended in 2017 to give committee chairpersons the power to stop what they consider as “repeated or irrelevant” speech.

UN says ‘deeply concerned’ over Hong Kong dissident arrests

Elizabeth Throssell, Spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). File Photo: Violaine Martin/UN Photo. Benny Tai speaking to the press outside Ma On Shan Police Station after receiving bail. Tai was arrested on Wendesday over his participation in a primary election for the now-postponed Legislative Council Election. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot. B

BEIJING, Jan 8, 2021: The United Nations voiced alarm Thursday at the arrest of 53 prominent figures in Hong Kong on charges of “subversion”, in comments Beijing said “interfered in China’s sovereignty”. In an operation involving 1,000 officers, Hong Kong police arrested the activists for “subversion”, a new national security crime that carries up to life in prison. Elizabeth Throssell, Spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). File Photo: Violaine Martin/UN Photo.

“We are deeply concerned about the arrests on Wednesday of 53 political activists, academics, former legislators, current district councillors, and lawyers in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and we call for their immediate release,” UN rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell said in a statement. “Yesterday’s arrests were the latest in a series of detentions related to the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly, in Hong Kong,” she said.

Most of those arrested were released on bail late Thursday, many accusing authorities of criminalising dissent. Wednesday’s arrests under a new security law were seen as the latest salvo in Beijing’s battle to stamp out dissent in the semi-autonomous city after millions hit the streets in 2019 with huge and sometimes violent democracy protests. Benny Tai speaking to the press outside Ma On Shan Police Station after receiving bail. Tai was arrested on Wendesday over his participation in a primary election for the now-postponed Legislative Council Election. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

“These latest arrests indicate that – as had been feared – the offence of subversion under the National Security Law is indeed being used to detain individuals for exercising legitimate rights to participate in political and public life,” Throssell said.

“Chaos and turbulence”

The Chinese mission to the UN in Geneva condemned her comments, with spokesman Liu Yuyin saying his country “categorically rejects the unwarranted remarks. “These comments severely interfered in China’s sovereignty and internal affairs,” he said in a statement. The Law is fully in line with the Constitution and the Basic Law. It not only serves Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, prosperity and stability but also protects the legitimate and lawful rights and interests of all foreign companies and personnel in Hong Kong.

He insisted that all the 53 people arrested by Hong Kong police on Wednesday were involved in a “plot”, which if left unchecked would have plunged Hong Kong into “chaos and turbulence”. “Regretably, by reversing the right and wrong and distorting human rights, the OHCHR (UN rights office) turns itself to accomplice of the anti-China forces and disruptors in Hong Kong,” Liu said. “This is a grave violation of the UN Charter and outright breach of the OHCHR’s mandate as a UN body.”

In her statement, Throssell had meanwhile pointed out that the UN rights office and rights experts had repeatedly warned that offences like subversion under the new law, passed last June, were “vague and overly broad, facilitating abusive or arbitrary implementation.” “We stress that exercise of the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly and through freely chosen representatives, is a fundamental right” under international law and Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

The UN rights office, she said, called on authorities to “refrain from using the National Security Law to suppress the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.” “We also urge the authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in the context of ongoing investigations, including by allowing journalists and news organisations to fully and freely exercise their legitimate functions.”

Hong Kong'sTop Microbiologist Endorses Mainland COVID-19 Vaccine

HONG KONG, Dec 17, 2020: A prominent microbiologist said on Thursday he's not worried about the safety of Covid-19 vaccine developed by China as long as it's approved by mainland health authorities. The first batch of a million doses from Sinovac is expected to arrive in Hong Kong next month. Ho Pak-leung from the University of Hong Kong told an RTHK programme that since the fourth wave of infections started, around 170 patients had been in a serious condition, with around 20 related deaths. "Even if the vaccines will cause serious side-effects, which I believe there will be, they won’t be common," Ho said.

He said people in high-risk groups need to consider the possibility of becoming seriously sick or even death if they aren't immune to the coronavirus. "When there’s comprehensive clinical data in January, I think people who are aged 50 and above, regardless if you have chronic diseases, should consider getting vaccinated," he said. Ho added that no one knows if the two other vaccines developed in Europe with brand new technologies could cause side-effects, as only a small number of people were involved with the clinical trials. He pointed out that the technology adopted by the mainland vaccine manufacturer, on the other hand, has been widely used in other vaccines.

Sinovac is developing an inactivated vaccine that exposes the immune system to the virus, without risking a serious response. Meanwhile, the president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, William Chui, said the government should consider compensating those who develop serious side-effects after being vaccinated. While Chui encouraged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce infections, he said an official database should also be set up to keep track of any serious side-effects. He added that it’s common practice to waive the responsibility of the manufacturers if the vaccines or drugs authorised for emergency use come down with problems.

The health secretary, Sophia Chan, on Wednesday suggested that the government might do just that, saying the arrangement is in line with international practice. She'd previously said the government would hold the vaccine manufacturers accountable.