Explainer: Hong Kong Government’s Request for NPCSC Interpretation of National Security Law in Jimmy Lai Case

Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon, has been indicted on four national security charges and was scheduled to stand trial on Thursday. (The government has asked the court to postpone the trial in light of the development discussed below.) He is being accused of violating Hong Kong’s seditious publications law and of conspiring to “collude with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security” under the Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR (NSL) [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法].

Recently, Lai retained Timothy Owen, an experienced British barrister, to lead his defense team. Owen, as one Hong Kong court recognized, is a “renowned specialist in criminal, public and human rights law, with substantial experience in cases concerning national security and freedom of speech.” He has appeared before Hong Kong courts in the past but is not admitted to the Hong Kong bar. Over the Hong Kong government’s objection, the Court of First Instance allowed Owen to represent Lai on an ad hoc basis. After having suffered a streak of losses on appeal, the government on Monday decided to seek help from the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC), which has the ultimate authority to interpret the NSL. Below, we will discuss the legal battle fought in Hong Kong courts, the government’s request for NPCSC intervention, and what to expect next.

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NPCSC Clarifies “Allegiance” Requirements for Hong Kong Legislators, Disqualifies Pro-Democracy Legislators

The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) adopted on Wednesday, November 11 a decision on the qualifications for members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo), resulting in the immediate disqualification of four pro-democracy legislators: Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki, Dennis Kwok, Kenneth Leung. These four incumbents have been banned from running in next year’s elections for the 7th LegCo, but until today have been allowed to stay on after the NPCSC extended the 6th LegCo’s term for a year.

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Legislation Summary: Hong Kong National Security Law

The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) unanimously approved the Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法] (Law) on the morning of Tuesday, June 30. That afternoon, the NPCSC separately listed the Law in Annex III to the Hong Kong Basic Law so that it can be enforced in the city. The Law took effect in Hong Kong later that day, at 11 p.m., when it was made public for the first time. The NPCSC previously released (via Xinhua) an excerpted explanation of the Law, which we have summarized here. For now, we will not restate what we already covered in that prior summary, in the interest of time. Instead, here, we will focus on the criminal provisions of the Law (which have heretofore been withheld) and other significant provisions that were not previously disclosed.

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NPCSC Seeks Public Comments on Draft Veterans Support Law & Rural Revitalization Promotion Law

The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) is soliciting public comments on the following two bills through July 21, 2020:

All linked files are PDF documents in Chinese. English translations will be provided if and when available. The accompanying explanations of these drafts can be read here (PDF).

The draft Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法] was reviewed together with those two bills last week, but were not released today. Since the NPCSC will meet again on Sunday and will likely adopt that Law, it seems all but certain that the NPCSC will not release a draft of the Law for public comments. We have summarized and analyzed an excerpted explanation of the bill here.

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NPCSC Concludes First June Session Before Immediately Scheduling Another, Likely to Adopt Hong Kong National Security Law (Updated)

UPDATE (July 5, 2020): The NPCSC has unanimously approved the Hong Kong National Security Law and added it to Annex III of the Hong Kong Basic Law. The Law took effect in Hong Kong at 11 p.m. on June 30. Our partial summary of it is here.

UPDATE (June 28, 2020): The draft Hong Kong National Security Law has been added to the agenda of the ongoing NPCSC session. We expect the NPCSC to approve the bill and add it to Annex III to the Hong Kong Basic Law by Tuesday.


The 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) concluded its 19th session on Saturday, June 20. It adopted three bills and approved China’s accession to the Arms Trade Treaty. On that same day, the Council of Chairpersons decided to convene the NPCSC again later this month, from June 28 to 30, merely one week after the 19th session. According to the readout of the Council’s meeting, it has placed six bills on the 20th session’s tentative agenda—not including the draft Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [香港特别行政区维护国家安全法] (Hong Kong National Security Law). But once again the readout concludes the list of bills with the character “等” (or “et cetera”), so the Hong Kong National Security Law could be included in the final agenda at the last minute—again. The NPCSC ordinarily meets once every two months; it has not held two sessions in such close proximity in over at least two decades. It seems to us, then, that the 20th session is scheduled to expedite—and pass—the Hong Kong National Security Law, while ensuring that the NPCSC complies with the Legislation Law’s requirement that new laws be adopted after at least two reviews.

Below, we will briefly review the bills adopted on Saturday and preview the upcoming 20th session, before concluding with the possible next steps for the Hong Kong National Security Law.

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