The national security law for Hong Kong was promulgated on Tuesday after it was unanimously passed by China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), and signed into law by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Bypassing local laws, the NPCSC added the new legislation into Annex III of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, on the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover to China from British rule.
Although the full legislation remains unread and unseen by the local Hong Kong government and public, the law is understood to grant Beijing sweeping powers over the city and prohibit acts of secession, subversion, terrorisim and collusion with foreign forces.
It is expected to carry a 3-10 year prison sentence for minor offences and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Hong Kong government response
Shortly after its passing, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor called on the international community to respect the new national security law in a video message to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.
“I urge the international community to respect our country’s right to safeguard national security, and Hong Kong people’s aspirations for stability and harmony,” Lam said in the video.
She reassured the council that the legislation would only target a small minority of people who have broken the law and would protect the basic rights and freedoms of the rest of the population.
Lam also accused foreign governments who have publicly objected to the law of having double standards.
“All those countries which are pointing their fingers at China have their own national security legislation in place. We can think of no valid reason why China alone should be inhibited from enacting a national security legislation to protect every corner of its territory and all of its nation,” she said.
At her weekly media briefing on Tuesday morning, Lam refused to answer questions about the new law, saying that it was “inappropriate” for her to answer any questions at that time. She did, however, confirm that she would fully cooperate with the central government in any efforts to sanction interference from foreign governments.
Tam Yiu-chung, an NPCSC member and the sole Hong Kong delegate with voting power, declined to comment on whether the law would be enforced retroactively to prosecute political activists who served as driving forces behind pro-democracy movements in the city.
“The law is to prevent, stop and punish acts that threaten national security,” Yiu-chung said, “So people who have been causing trouble in the past should be careful from now on. They will bear the criminal responsibility if they test the law.”
Hong Kong opposition response
On the other hand, the promulgation of the law sparked a public outcry over the secretive details contained within.
James To Kun-sun, a veteran of the Democratic Party, said that by not revealing the legislation and taking into account the public’s viewpoints, Beijing had “insulted” China’s legislative procedures.
“The whole world will have a huge reaction… and squeeze the Chinese Communist Party because it is breaching its promise [to implement one country, two systems],” he said.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who represents the legal sector, had similar concerns about the government keeping the details of the legislation under wraps until it was due to be enacted.
“Hongkongers may only have an hour to read this law that can mean life and death to them,” said Kwok.
After the passing of the law was announced, the city also saw the disbandment of multiple pro-democracy activist groups with members fearful of being targeted if the law turns out to be retroactive.
Demosisto, one of Hong Kong’s most famous pro-democracy groups, announced that four key members had resigned from the group, stating a “need to fragment so that everyone can continue with the resistance in a more flexible manner.”
“When the national security law is approaching with the People’s Liberation Army demonstrating a sniper ‘decapitation’, it is no longer nonsense to worry about life and safety in engaging democratic resistance in Hong Kong,” wrote the co-founder and former secretary general of Demosisto, Joshua Wong, on his Facebook page. This was in reference to a Chinese military video released on Sunday showing soldiers taking part in shooting drills in the city.
“I will continue to stay at my home – Hong Kong, until they silence and wipe me out,” said Wong.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a Hong Kong organization closely affiliated with pan-democratic camps, appeared in court on Tuesday to appeal a ban placed on the city’s July 1 pro-democracy march, which has taken place annually for the past 17 years.
CHRF convener Figo Chan insisted that the march take place even if their appeal is rejected. “We wish to bring a message of solidarity by collaborating with various councillors from different camps. Citizens must come out on July 1,” he said.
Beijing has maintained their firm attitude regarding the purpose of the law saying that it would plug a legal loophole in the city and deter activities that endanger national security while safeguarding the rights of most residents and foreigners.
Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong added that the implementation was “a celebration for all Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots.”
“The [NPCSC] bears the weight of 1.4 billion Chinese people and has conducted relevant legislative work in a highly responsible manner.”
Chairman of the NPCSC Li Zhanshu described the law as a “reflection of the will of comrades in the whole of the nation including Hong Kong.”
“The central government hopes that with this law, violent protests will not re-emerge in Hong Kong. If the city becomes a base for collusion with foreign forces, ‘one country, two systems’ would also be jeopardised,” he added.
Delegates present at the NPCSC meeting had also revealed previously that Beijing would only exercise its jurisdiction in Hong Kong under three “extreme” conditions, which have yet to be revealed.
Amnesty International gave a statement following the announcement of the law, saying that its passage was “the greatest threat to human rights in the city’s recent history.”
“The speed and secrecy with which China has pushed through this legislation intensifies the fear that Beijing has calculatingly created a weapon of repression to be used against government critics, including people who are merely expressing their views or protesting peacefully,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, the head of the Amnesty International China team.
“The fact that the Chinese authorities have now passed this law without the people of Hong Kong being able to see it tells you a lot about their intentions. Their aim is to govern Hong Kong through fear from this point forward.”
Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British governor and now a patron of the UK-based group Hong Kong Watch, described the bill as a “flagrant breach” of both the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, which guaranteed the city’s high degree of autonomy from mainland China until 2047.
“The separation of powers is in danger of being shattered and the courts politicised by the provision that the Chief Executive will herself choose the judges for national security cases,” said Patten, referring to a provision of the law that was revealed last week.
“It will throttle the city’s rule of law, presenting a major confrontation between what passes for law in China and the common law system in Hong Kong which has allowed the city to function as one of the most important financial hubs in Asia.”
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