As China’s top legislative body and the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (SCNPC) commenced a three-day meeting to finalize the details of Hong Kong’s national security law on Sunday, anonymous sources have come forward and revealed new details about the contentious bill.
The national security law would criminalize acts and activities related to secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. It is expected to take effect on Tuesday immediately after the SCNPC meeting ends.
While some general details of the new law have been publicized, the full draft has not been released with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam admitting last Tuesday that she had not seen the full draft legislation.
Many have suggested that the legislation’s drafting process has been intentionally kept under wraps to avoid sparking further unrest in Hong Kong, which has seen over a year of anti-government demonstrations.
“In Hong Kong, public opinion has been divided. If all clauses were disclosed now, the legislative process might be disrupted or dragged on,” said Elsie Leung Oi-Sie, a former vice chairman of Hong Kong’s Basic Law Committee.
One Hong Kong delegate present at the meeting anonymously revealed to SCMP that crimes under the new law would carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. This is contrary to earlier reports which claimed that the penalty for violating the law was set at 5-10 years of imprisonment.
When questioned about what crimes would warrant a life sentence, the source said that “It will definitely cover more than just secession and subversion. The law is not going to be merely a ‘toothless tiger’.”
There are currently 10 local Hong Kong delegates in the SCNPC attending the meeting to express their views. However, only one of them has the power to vote on the law.
Tam Yiuchung, the sole Hong Kong delegate with voting power, stated ahead of the Sunday meeting his intention to relay suggestions for the law to be made retroactive, meaning to punish those who had violated the law prior to its enactment, as well as to impose stricter penalties in order to deter citizens from violation.
“Some people are concerned that there will be no deterrent effect if [the law] is not retroactive. Some others think that penalties for offences concerning national security should be heavier to reflect on severity,” said Tam.
Another Hong Kong delegate Ip Kwokhim also pointed out that national security laws in other countries also carried potential life sentences.
“I can’t see why such a serious offence [in Hong Kong] would not be the same,” he said, before revealing that the bill outlined three scenarios under which Beijing could assert jurisdiction over Hong Kong in national security cases.
However, he refused to give further details.
A recent survey conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute on the national security law has shown that 56% of the public opposed the law. When asked if he would also relay these results, Tam responded saying that “It’s meaningless to include dissenting voices.”
“They have been opposing such legislation for more than 20 years … If we accommodate their views, how can we deal with national security? We have to make a decision,” he added.
Meanwhile, international concern over the law has also been growing.
Last Friday, the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which calls for mandatory sanctions against those involved in undermining the city’s autonomy, was passed unanimously by the United States Senate.
Shortly after, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced visa restrictions that would be imposed on “current and former [Chinese] officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
In response, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Saturday, accusing the US of “bullying actions” and ‘slander” against China and threatening retaliatory action.
“The US must immediately stop its interference in Hong Kong affairs and China’s domestic affairs, or else it will be met with a powerful counter-attack from the Chinese side,” said a ministry spokesperson.
Ip has also chimed into the discussion and defended China against US “intimidation.”
“Thieves have been going in and out of our home freely … It’s so ridiculous that we are now accused of installing a door to prevent them from coming in,” said Ip.
Last week, former United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, along with eight other special envoys, urged the intergovernmental body to appoint a special envoy to Hong Kong in light of the “humanitarian tragedy” occurring there.
In the statement released on Thursday, the group cited concerns about the “severity of the deterioration, the impending grave threats under the new security law, [and] the symbolism that a human rights crisis in what had been one of Asia’s freest cities entails.”
Amnesty International also released a statement on Sunday criticizing the law and calling on China to include provisions to better protect human rights in the city.
In a harshly-worded statement, head of Amnesty International’s China Team Joshua Rosenzweig stated, “Hong Kong stands at the cliff-edge of an uncertain and unsettling future, its freedoms threatened by national security legislation that could override the laws currently protecting the city’s inhabitants from the worst excesses of state-sponsored repression.”
“The authorities’ assertion that the law will only affect a tiny minority is hardly reassuring when it includes repressive measures that could be used to target literally anyone the government chooses,” he added.
“The Chinese government must abandon plans to pass a national security law for Hong Kong unless it can provide water-tight guarantees that the legislation conforms with human rights in all aspects.”
Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at [email protected]