'Execution Lee' stands firm

Martin Lee Chu-Ming is a dangerous man – or so China would have us believe. In reality, his demure appearance is no fake and he makes no attempt to hide his passion for unified democracy under his tailor-made suits.

In fact, Lee is one of the most respected barristers and politicians in Asia. He is chair of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong and a staunch advocate of human and civil rights, issues which have made him the sharpest thorn in China's side.

His frequent attacks against mainland policies have earned him the nickname 'Execution Lee'. Nothing will stop his quest for democracy when Hong Kong reverts to Chinese sovereignty on 30 June 1997.

Lee wants assurances from the mainland that, after the handover, Hong Kong will enjoy the same laws, which have laid the foundation for the territory's success to date.

Unlike many politicians Lee, 58, is committed to a cause and prepared to pay the price for his beliefs. After the Tiananmen Square massacre on 4 June 1989, Lee and fellow liberal Szeto Wah were accused of plotting counter-revolutionary events. Both men were placed under round-the-clock protection after the Special Branch unearthed an assassination plot by a mainland gang.

Lee studied law at Lincoln's Inn and became a Queen's Counsel in 1979. In the 1980s, he was reputed to be one of the highest-paid lawyers in Hong Kong. Many people have since questioned his decision to dedicate most of his time to politics, something which Lee has carefully considered many times.

“People have often told me I am stupid for giving so much time to politics,” he says. “But I believe Hong Kong needs people who are prepared to make sacrifices.”

It is Lee's legal mind which is the backbone of his political beliefs and career. “The rule of law concerns us more than anything else,” he says. “Sadly, looking to the future of Hong Kong, the prognosis is very pessimistic. Laws are made to protect us and, in Hong Kong, we have the Bill of Rights which makes the Government more accountable to the legislature. Beijing intends to scrap the elected legislature and replace it with an appointed one. Therefore, any decisions after 1997 will be made by Beijing, not the Hong Kong people.

“We have already been told by Beijing what to expect,” continues Lee. “Abolishing articles of an international covenant will leave Hong Kong exposed to breaches of civil and human rights, breaches of freedom of the press, the right to assembly and freedom of expression.”

Lee believes the most important provision is that which gives power to all courts to strike down any law which is inconsistent. “But Beijing has said this provision will be repealed after the handover,” he says.

“Instead, draconian laws will be reinstated, putting an end to freedom of expression and assembly, to name a few,” Lee warns. “No group exceeding 20 will be able to demonstrate in a public place, unless it has prior written permission from the Commissioner of Police.

“Under current law, if I were to organise a pro-democracy march for 3,000 people to the headquarters of the New China News Agency tomorrow, I would ring up the police and they would make the necessary arrangements. This is unlikely to happen after 1997 and clearly violates the Bill of Rights.”

Lee also predicts the resignation of a number of the territory's top judges. “This will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on our profession,” he says. “Successful barristers become judges to serve the people, but what will the attraction be after the handover? To do the dirty work for the communist government?”

As the outspoken voice of the Hong Kong people, Lee will be staying put after the handover to continue his fight for democracy. “I cannot see Beijing blocking the world tide moving towards democracy and the rule of law, no matter how strong the Chinese government is,” he says. “There will be casualties and victims, but people are prepared to pay the price for a better future. We will soldier on – we have to – and I am confident we will win in the end.”