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Saturday, Sep 25, 2021

Candidate pulls out of Hong Kong lawyers' group election over safety fears

Candidate pulls out of Hong Kong lawyers' group election over safety fears

A council member of a professional group of solicitors in Hong Kong has dropped his bid to seek re-election next week, citing fears for his safety and that of his family.
Tuesday's elections to the Law Society, a professional body and regulator for 12,000 solicitors, come as critics say the legal system in the global financial hub face pressure from a China-imposed national security law.

Although officials in Hong Kong and Beijing have rejected these concerns, the normally low-key polls have drawn unusual levels of scrutiny from pro-Beijing media and senior city officials.

"For my safety and the safety of my family I am announcing my intention to withdraw my name as candidate," the lawyer, Jonathan Ross, said in a statement, without specifying the risks impelling what is seen as a rare step.

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

Ross declined further comment to Reuters.

Neither the Law Society nor the office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor could immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.

While the Law Society is seen as more conservative than the barristers' Bar Association, both bodies have traditionally had a watchdog role over legal changes, and are represented on a panel that recommends judges' appointments.

Four of the 11 candidates at Tuesday's election are considered relatively outspoken, which has raised fears among some government officials of an emerging political agenda.

Hong Kong's government would consider cutting ties with the Law Society if it were to be "trumped by politics", Lam said this week.

Some lawyers said Ross' move was rare for a generally low profile body drawn from solicitors working in the commercial sector and a sign of the tension in the city.

China's People Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, has said the Law Society should not become a "politicised group", and has previously called the Bar Association a "running rat".

The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 amid guarantees its extensive social and commercial freedoms would remain under a "one country, two systems" model.

Fears that those freedoms were under threat sparked months of sometimes violent protests in the city in 2019.

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