China condemns U.S. report calling for sanctions against Hong Kong security judges

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By Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) -China on Friday condemned a U.S. congressional report that called for sanctions against 29 Hong Kong judges involved in the city's national security cases, given their role in "weakening" the rule of law.

The report by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) - which advises Congress - said a national security law China imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 in response to pro-democracy demonstrations had "created a parallel legal system that weakens judicial independence and strips criminal defendants of basic due process protections".

Only judges appointed by Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leader have been allowed to hear national security cases, in what the report said was an "opaque" process that had helped "diminish the public’s trust in the judiciary".

"As participants in this system, judges appointed to handle national security cases contribute to these systemic violations," the report said.

It urged the U.S. government to impose sanctions on 29 known national security judges including lower level magistrates and those sitting on the city's highest court.

The Chinese Foreign Commissioner's Office in Hong Kong, however, "strongly condemmed" the report in a statement, and said it had smeared the city's national security law and judicial system.

A Hong Kong government statement said the report was a "shameless, sinister and malicious attempt to put spiteful pressure on judges". It added that Hong Kong's judges "remain independent and impartial", free from any interference, and that Hong Kong's judicial system was "open and transparent".

Hong Kong's judiciary said in a statement that the report was "a flagrant and direct affront to the rule of law".

The Hong Kong government also condemned jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai's son Sebastien Lai, and solicitor Kevin Yam, who testified during a CECC hearing on Thursday.

Hong Kong's legislature recently passed a bill giving the city's leader the right to bar foreign lawyers from national security cases after complaints were lodged against a British lawyer representing Jimmy Lai.

Chris Smith, a U.S. congressman, said during the hearing that judges and government prosecutors who were "complicit" in the erosion of Hong Kong's rule of law should be sanctioned.

The China-imposed national security law punishes acts of subversion, terrorism, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment.

The conviction rate in national security cases has been 100 per cent so far. More than 250 people, including some of the former British colony's leading opposition politicians, activists, lawyers and journalists, have been arrested for alleged security offences, with legal proceedings still ongoing.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang; editing by James Pomfret and Mark Heinrich)