The Asia chair of US law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell has pulled out of a Hong Kong government forum commemorating the introduction of a national security law that heralded a crackdown on the city’s democratic opposition.
Martin Rogers was criticised after he said he was “honoured” to speak at the event which was to feature speeches by Hong Kong officials who have had sanctions imposed on them by the US government for their role in the clampdown.
“I have decided to withdraw from speaking at the May 28 National Security Law Legal Forum,” Rogers said in a social media post on Sunday. “My agreement to participate did not reflect an endorsement or support of any topics discussed or individuals or organisations involved.”
The event was organised by Hong Kong’s justice department, led by Teresa Cheng, who has been subjected to US sanctions for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong”.
One keynote speech by a senior Chinese official will cover how the security law has “won the hearts of the people” and set Hong Kong on a path from “chaos to order”.
Critics said the decision to appear at the event suggested Davis Polk was in favour of the security law, under which newspapers have been forced to close and civil society groups shuttered.
“It certainly gives the appearance that the firm is endorsing the Hong Kong national security law,” Michael Davis, a former law professor at the University of Hong Kong and a global fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, said. “The firm should be aware that the security law has been used to lock up almost the entire opposition in Hong Kong and has had a dramatic effect on basic freedoms.”
Alvin Cheung, a postdoctoral Fellow at McGill University and analyst of Hong Kong legal developments, said: “It seems clear from the event advert that the [Hong Kong justice department] intends the event to be a strongly pro-national security law one.”
In the post, Rogers said he was appearing in a personal capacity alongside other experts to discuss procedural challenges.
In a video recorded at a similar event last year held by the Hong Kong government and posted on social media by a government office, Rogers said the security law was important legislation.
“I believe that National Security Law is a very important, positive piece of legal and regulatory framework in maintaining Hong Kong’s leading role as a financial business and investment centre,” Rogers said in the video. “Why is it important? At the heart of everything, Hong Kong government’s success is the rule of law.”