Hong Kong’s Law Society votes for new governing council members on Tuesday, an annual event made fraught this year by the city’s national security law, with pro-Beijing media accusing some candidates of political bias.
The 12,000 member professional and regulatory body for the Hong Kong legal sector has a watchdog role over legal changes, and a say in the appointments of judges and lawyers who sit on various government advisory bodies. The election on Tuesday is for five of its governing council’s 20 seats.
Some of the city’s leading lawyers, both locals and expatriates, streamed into a large hall in a waterfront convention centre to cast their ballots.
One, who declined to be named, said she was concerned about the highly charged atmosphere of these elections but that it was important to “vote according to my conscience” for candidates who would stand up for the rule of law.
The election has spawned lurid but non-specific accusations against some candidates in pro-Beijing newspapers. One, Ta Kung Pao, describes a “liberal” faction that will carry out “ulterior political goals” if it wins a majority of seats.
Another such newspaper, Wen Wei Po, called four of the candidates “independence advocates” – a claim punishable under the national security law.
Other major professional bodies have come under pressure recently too, including Hong Kong’s largest teachers union, which disbanded this month after being attacked in pro-Beijing media as a “poisonous tumour”.
Critics, including rights groups and the U.S. government, say the legal system in the global financial hub is straining as Beijing tightens control. The sweeping national security law introduced a year ago outlaws foreign collusion, terrorism, secession and subversion with possible life imprisonment.