Former Hong Kong Bar Association chairman Paul Harris has left Hong Kong 12 hours after meeting with Hong Kong national security authorities and local police, according to local reports.
Harris left Hong Kong for the U.K. via a transit stop in Turkey at 11 pm on March 1, according to the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s flagship newspaper.
He had been interviewed by the national security department of the local police station in Wanchai less than 12 hours before his departure, the newspaper said.
A police source told the newspaper that Harris had been called in to “assist with an investigation” and was asked to explain acts that had allegedly violated the National Security Law.
A separate local news outlet, Beijing-owned Wen Wei Po, reported that Harris was also probed about Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, a non-governmental organization he had founded back in 1995.
Harris, who is a human rights lawyer, was appointed head of the Hong Kong Bar Association in January of 2021. He held the role for a year before Temple Chambers barrister Victor Dawes replaced him in January of this year. Harris did not run for the position again and Dawes ran unopposed.
Harris did not respond to Law.com International’s request for comment.
Since his appointment, Harris has experienced scrutiny from the Chinese government and backlash over his public statements about some provisions of the National Security Law, which he said conflict with certain rights guaranteed under Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
Beijing has branded him an anti-Communist lawyer who challenged the bottom line of the “one country, two systems” principle.
Harris’s departure from Hong Kong is likely to attract industry attention at a time when several industry practitioners outside of Hong Kong have raised concerns about the rule of law there.
Since the National Security Law was passed in June 2020, Hong Kong’s national security police have arrested about 160 Hong Kong residents, including pro-democracy protestors who have participated in the country’s demonstrations and marches since 2019.
Harris, who was born in Oxford in the U.K., has lived and worked in both London and Hong Kong. He was based in the U.K. and relocated to Hong Kong when he was appointed head of the Bar Association. In Hong Kong, he is a Senior Counsel, which is equivalent to a Queen’s Counsel in England. He practiced law at Dennis Chang Chambers in Hong Kong and at Doughty Street Chambers in London.