This Was a Lousy Week for the Rule of Law in Hong Kong, Russia, and Brazil

Fair courts. Independent prosecutors. Clean police. Leaders who are held to account… These things are essential for a society to function under what we call rule of law. In a busy news week, three of the biggest stories in the world shared a common thread: the rule of law is in trouble.

After violent clashes in Hong Kong between police and activists, local legislators have postponed debate over a controversial new law that would permit the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. More protests are expected this weekend, but Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who enjoys the strong backing of China's leadership in Beijing, still intends to see the law through.

Spoiler: it's only a matter of time before she does. That will leave Hong Kongers subject to a mainland judicial system that is far more politicized and opaque than their local courts. What's more, Ms. Lam wants to dust off long-shelved proposals that would give Chinese authorities more leeway to crack down on dissent in the former British territory.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Kremlin responded to an unusually strong outcry over the bogus jailing of Moscow-based investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, by intervening to scrap the charges and fire two senior officers responsible for the arrest. That sounds like good news – and for Mr Golunov it most certainly is. But selective intervention by a Tsar-like president isn't at all the same thing as true rule of law. Both the arrest and subsequent intervention by President Vladimir Putin reinforce the pattern of arbitrary power that is one of Russia's biggest and most stubborn problems.

And sometimes the rule of law can suffer if prosecutors abuse that power. Over to Brazil, where the judge who heard trials in the massive "Lavo Jato" corruption investigation that's jailed hundreds of once-untouchable business leaders and politicians -- including the popular leftist former president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva -- appears to have been improperly coordinating with prosecutors. That's according to leaked conversations published by The Intercept earlier this week. The revelations raise questions not only about Lula's conviction, but about the fairness and transparency of the whole probe. And it doesn't help that judge in question -- Sergio Moro -- is now Justice Minister under President Jair Bolsonaro, who cruised to victory in last year's presidential election after Lula was disqualified due to his conviction. Talk about an own-goal for the rule of law.

America's internet giants are being pulled into political fights right and left these days. Speech – what can be said, and who can say it – is increasingly at the center of those controversies. Consider these two stories from opposite sides of the world:

More Show less

Italy's prime minister resigns – Giuseppe Conte, the caretaker prime minister appointed to mediate an uneasy governing alliance between Italy's anti-establishment 5Star Movement and the right-wing Lega party, resigned on Tuesday. Rather than wait for a no-confidence vote triggered by the rightwing Lega Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Conte stepped down on his own terms. Salvini, who's popularity has been rising, had hoped that by triggering snap elections he could get himself appointed prime minister, will now have to wait for Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, to decide what comes next. While Lega and smaller right-wing allies want a new vote, center and left-wing parties are apparently working to see if they can form a majority coalition – perhaps including 5Star -- that would allow Mattarella to appoint a new government without fresh elections. We're watching to see how the dust settles in Europe's third-biggest economy.

More Show less

300: The US tested a new medium-range cruise missile on Sunday that flew more than 300 miles. This marks the first time the US has tested a weapon that would have violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War era pact that was officially abandoned three weeks ago, sparking fears of a new global arms race.

More Show less