AP Interview: Arrested US lawyer says HK courts face choice

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HONG KONG (AP) – A US lawyer who became the first foreigner arrested under Hong Kong’s national security law said on Friday that courts now have a choice between the new law and the freedoms legally enshrined in the city, so that China was suppressing dissent in Asia. financial capital.

John Clancey was one of 55 people arrested last week for their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year which authorities said was part of a plan to cripple the government and subvert the power of the ‘State. He was released on bail and has not been formally charged.

His adopted home in Hong Kong, where he has lived since 1968, moved from a British colony to a semi-autonomous Chinese territory in 1997 with Western-style civil rights. It is now in transition again as China enforces tough new security laws against activists, opposition lawmakers and others who challenge the central government in Beijing.

“On the one hand, we have all these fundamental rights, including the right to democracy, to vote, to freedom of expression, incorporated into the Basic Law,” he said in an interview on Friday, saying reference to the mini-constitution which governed Hong Kong. since his return to China.

“On the other hand, we have this new national security law. Both went through the National People’s Congress (of China). So, Hong Kong courts, judges, will ultimately have to decide what takes precedence and what is stronger: internationally recognized rights that we have from birth, or will it be the law on national security?

Clancey first came to Hong Kong as a missionary. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, he speaks Cantonese and is married to a woman from Hong Kong.

“Until now, I’ve never considered, you know, leaving or going back,” he says.

He has a long history of working with the city’s poor as a priest and has committed his life to social justice, inspired by his religious conviction. He worked with activists to fight for basic freedoms like voting before the transfer to China from the British.

At the time, many residents had left the city, fearing a return to China under the Communist Party regime. Clancey stayed.

“Considering what was stated in the Basic Law and the Joint Declaration, I had a lot of hope, because it very clearly states that internationally recognized rights would be part of Hong Kong society,” he said. declared. The Sino-British joint declaration, signed in 1984, sets the general conditions for the 1997 return.

“I was on the optimistic side that was saying, listen up, it’s in the law, so let’s keep working to make this a reality, and let’s do it as soon as possible,” Clancey said.

In the same year as the transfer, he started working as a lawyer. Clancey then joined Ho Tse Wai & Partners, a company known for its work in the field of civil rights. He challenged the ban on face masks during anti-government protests that rocked the city in 2019. Company founder Albert Ho is a seasoned pro-democracy activist.

Clancey was arrested for his work as treasurer of Power for Democracy, a political organization involved in the informal primaries that the pro-democracy camp organized last year.

Although the pendulum in Hong Kong has shifted towards more restrictions instead of less, he argued that it is important to keep moving forward.

“My approach has been this: you live by your conscience, you live by your standards, you live by the people you work with, and you keep moving forward,” he said. “And even in the darkest days, I think it’s very important to keep hope.”

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