Candidate Withdraws From Hong Kong Law Society Elections, Citing Intimidation

Jonathan Ross says his candidacy appeared to have generated fear 'in some quarters.'
By Kay Lee
2021.08.23
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Candidate Withdraws From Hong Kong Law Society Elections, Citing Intimidation The office of the Law Society of Hong Kong is shown in a file photo.
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A lawyer standing for election to a Hong Kong professional body reported intimidation and withdrew his candidacy, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party stepped up pressure on civil society groups in the city.

Law Society president Melissa Pang said in a statement on Saturday that a candidate had withdrawn from the election, citing threatening messages.

"Fairness and transparency must be safeguarded in any election. The Law Society takes a very serious view of the alleged act of intimidation and has advised the candidate to report the matter to the police immediately," the statement said.

Candidate Jonathan Ross said he was pulling out of the forthcoming election for the society's governing body over concern for his safety and that of his family.

"I fail to understand the level of fear that our candidacies have engendered in certain quarters," he wrote in a letter announcing his decision.

"It is a shameful and sad day for Hong Kong that an election for council of our honorable institution has sunk to this level."

The Society will hold its annual general meeting on Aug. 24, and elect a new board.

Ross, who was campaigning for re-election, described himself in his campaign material as an "independent and moderate voice."

He said his withdrawal had nothing to do with a five-minute conversation he held with China's Supreme People's Court judge Gao Xiaoli during a trip to Beijing in 2018, during which he said a case his company was involved in had taken more than a year to come to trial. 

A complaint, the reason for which remains unknown, was filed with the Law Society in 2019, and no evidence of impropriety was found, he said.

Warned against politics

Ross' withdrawal came days after Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam warned lawyers to stay out of politics, and after his denunciation in state-controlled Chinese media.

Lam warned on Aug. 17 that if any professional body got too political, the city's government would consider "terminating the relationship."

Earlier, the CCP's official mouthpiece, the People's Daily, referred to the Law Society as a "running rat," warning it not to allow itself to get "politicized" ahead of Aug. 24 leadership elections.

The paper warned the Law Society in an editorial that it should "draw a clear line" between itself and "anti-China elements" to avoid meeting the same fate as the Professional Teachers' Union (PTU), which disbanded last week after being criticized in CCP-backed media.

In April, Lam also targeted the Bar Association, whose chairman Paul Harris has been labeled "anti-China" by Beijing officials for criticizing jail terms handed down to opposition politicians.

The Law Society said it is, and continues to be, politically neutral.

Professional bodies pressured

China has been stepping up pressure on civil and professional bodies in recent weeks, with Hong Kong's biggest teaching union, the Professional Teachers' Union (PTU), disbanding on Aug. 10, after being described as a "malignant tumor" in need of eradication by the People's Daily.

At the weekend, the Hong Kong Educators' Alliance said it was also disbanding.

"The Alliance was dissolved by a vote of extraordinary general meeting in accordance with its charter," the group said in an Aug. 21 post to its Facebook page.

"All assets will be divided equally among members after liabilities are discharged," it said.

The group was relatively small, having been set up in January 2020 in the hope of protecting teachers from dismissal during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

It claimed around 1,000 members in May 2020.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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