Hong Kong condemns U.S. bill calling for sanctions on officials

By Jessie Pang and James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong on Friday condemned a U.S. bill calling for sanctions against 49 Hong Kong officials, judges and prosecutors involved in national security legal cases, saying U.S. legislators were grand-standing and trying to intimidate the city.

The Hong Kong Sanctions Act is a bipartisan bid by U.S. congressmen in the House of Representatives and the Senate urging the Biden administration to sanction the officials, judges and prosecutors responsible for the political persecution of pro-democracy activists in the former British colony.

Officials named in the bill include Secretary for Justice Paul Lam, Police chief Raymond Siu and judges Andrew Cheung, Andrew Chan, Johnny Chan, Alex Lee, Esther Toh and Amanda Woodcock.

A city government spokesperson said the U.S. politicians should stop acting against international law and norms of international relations and stop interfering in Hong Kong matters, which were "purely China's internal affairs".

"The HKSAR government strongly condemns their political grandstanding rife with ill intentions, which have been seen through by all," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Hong Kong has been a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China since Britain handed it over in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula meant to preserve the finiancial hub's freedoms.

"The HKSAR despises any so-called 'sanctions' and shall never be intimidated," the spokesperson said.

The Hong Kong judiciary also condemned the bill saying: "any such attempt is a flagrant and direct affront to the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong".

The bill would require the U.S. president to determine whether the Hong Kong officials named in it qualify for sanctions under existing U.S. legislation, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.

Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 after months of at times violent pro-democracy protests.

The law, which Hong Kong and Beijing said was necessary to restore order and preserve the city's prosperity, punishes subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison.

Anna Kwok, a self-exiled Hong Kong democracy activist, who recently had a bounty of HK$1 million put on her by Hong Kong authorities for alleged national security violations, welcomed the bill saying the 49 people named were "key architects" of the Chinese Communist Party's "attack on Hong Kong’s legal system".

"This bill shows that the global community will not allow these threats to judicial independence to fester," Kwok said.

Since the national security law was imposed, more than 280 people have been arrested including opposition politicians, activists, lawyers and journalists.

The United States imposed sanctions on several Hong Kong officials including leader John Lee in 2020 over their role in implementing what Washington deems the "draconian" security law.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)