RTHK understands that mainland authorities have expanded the scope of draft national security legislation for Hong Kong, to bring organisations as well as individuals under its ambit.
The new law was understood to originally prohibit behaviour that endangers national security, but sources told RTHK that that is being revised to cover activities, that endanger national security.
Mainland lawyers who have handled national security cases in the past say this change could bring not just individuals, but also organisations under the scope of the law.
Separately, Reuters reported that the planned national security legislation for Hong Kong will also block its foreign judges from handling national security trials, quoting unnamed sources familiar with the matter, which would exacerbate concerns about the city's judicial independence.
The legislation, which the sources said remains subject to change, would also see both central and city government security agencies set up in Hong Kong, they said.
The Hong Kong government has said the legislation would not affect its judicial independence.
The Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress could not immediately be reached for comment and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Beijing's push for the legislation follows months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, fuelled by fears among many in the city of the erosion by Beijing of its autonomy under a "one country, two systems" system.
Beijing blames the protests on anti-China "troublemakers", aided at times by unspecified foreign and external forces.
It has not said when the legislation would be completed but sources and delegates to China’s parliament said it was likely to be enacted before Legislative Council elections in September.
Hong Kong’s foreign judges stem from an arrangement established at its 1997 handover to help maintain its credibility as an international financial hub.
Its highest court, the Court of Final Appeal, has 23 judges, of whom 15 are foreign, from places like Britain, Canada and Australia. All serve as non-permanent members of the court, which means they are called on periodically to sit on cases.
While under the new law they would no longer be able to handle national security cases, they will not be excluded from civil, financial or other cases, the sources said.
However, any move to limit the role of foreign judges is likely to alarm some Hong Kong lawyers and judges, who already fear the city's vaunted judicial independence is under threat from Beijing’s Communist Party leadership.
The Hong Kong Bar Association said China’s plan to impose the law without public consultation or local legislative scrutiny had caused "deep unease in the local and international community".
The Basic Law, enshrines the independence of the judiciary and states that judges may come from other common law jurisdictions.
Andy Tsang, a delegate to China’s parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) and former police commissioner, said he was not aware of details in the yet-to-be-drafted legislation that could bar foreign judges from national security cases, but cited a similar set-up in nearby Macau.
Macau barred foreign judges from hearing national security cases in 2018.
Another Hong Kong delegate to the largely rubber-stamp NPC, Maggie Chan, proposed a National Security Court where cases could only be heard by Chinese judges, Hong Kong media cited her as saying on the sidelines of the NPC.
The new legislation is also expected to enable Beijing to establish intelligence agencies in Hong Kong. Mainland security and intelligence services now have no enforcement powers in the city. (Reuters, staff reporter)
Security bill expected to target groups also
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