On Tuesday evening, the highly anticipated details of Beijing’s elusive national security law for Hong Kong were revealed to the public and local government for the first time.
“It is a historical step to perfect Hong Kong safeguarding national security, territorial integrity and a secure system,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam at a flag-raising ceremony, marking the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British rule in 1997.
“It is also an inevitable and prompt decision to restore stability in the society.”
The enforcement of this law has also been described by some pro-Beijing officials as a “second return” of Hong Kong to its motherland.
Shen Chunyao, head of the legislative affairs commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) said that “It effectively stops the loopholes in the (special administrative region) in relation to establishing a framework to protect national security.”
Four broad offenses
Previous statements from Beijing about the proposed law highlighted four key areas that the legislation intended to focus on; secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.
- Secession is defined in Article 20 of the law as the organization, execution or participation in acts that undermine national unification, “whether or not by force or threat of force.”
- Subversion refers to any act that subverts, undermines or disrupts the performance of duties and functions by the People’s Republic of China. It also includes the “damaging of premises and facilities” used by the Hong Kong government, rendering it incapable of undertaking its normal duties.
- Terrorist activities are any acts that cause grave harm to society with the intention of coercing a governmental body or organization in order to pursue a political agenda. It specifies acts such as personal violence, sabotage of transport facilities or electric control systems. However, the definition also includes “other dangerous activities which seriously jeopardize public health, safety or security.”
- Collusion with foreign forces is defined as the act of stealing, spying on, or providing state secrets or intelligence on behalf of foreign institutions, organizations or agents. Requesting foreign bodies to disrupt the formulation or laws, undermine local elections or impose sanctions, among other acts by “various unlawful ways” would also be considered “collusion.”
Offenses under these four broad categories carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and between three to 10 years imprisonment for minor cases.
Any individual or organization involved in the planning, execution or advocacy of any of the offenses will also be prosecuted.
Furthermore, anyone who offers support in the form of guidance, funding or the provision of facilities, to those guilty of the aforementioned acts will also be liable to punishment.
This includes individuals and organizations residing or operating from outside of China.
The legislation also wrote that a new agency, the Office for Safeguarding National Security, will act alongside the local government to adopt measures to “strengthen the management” of cases against national security and the influence of foreign organizations and media agencies.
It also states that the agency and its staff should be able to operate with impunity with the acts performed in the course of duty not “ … subject to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” or subject to inspection, search or detention by local law enforcement.
With the approval of mainland China’s government, the law will also grant the Office for Safeguarding National Security with the power to override local government and exercise jurisdiction if the case involves foreign countries, a major and imminent threat to national security or any situation where the Hong Kong government is “unable to effectively enforce this Law.”
Hong Kong Police Force
A new National Security Department will also be established within the Hong Kong Police Force to protect national security, which would be allowed to conduct covert operations in the city.
The local police force would also be granted a range of new powers including the ability to search suspicious premises and vehicles, seize travel documents, require foreign organizations to provide information, intercept communications and conduct secret surveillance missions.
Handling of cases
Generally, trials are allowed to be conducted in open court with the presence of a jury. However, if a case involves sensitive information or public order, all or part of the trial will be closed to the media and public. The Secretary of Justice may also issue a certificate that directs that the case be tried without a jury and instead be delivered to a panel of three judges.
Furthermore, criminal suspects or defendants will not be eligible for bail unless the judge has “sufficient grounds [to believe] that [they] will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
Despite the repeal of last year’s infamous proposed extradition bill, the new national security legislation states that Beijing can exercise jurisdiction in cases involving “complicated situations.”
In such cases, China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate can name “relevant procuratorates” to lead prosecutions and the Supreme People’s Court can refer cases to “relevant courts” for trial.
In light of new revelations, many remain concerned that the new law will diminish Hong Kong’s autonomy and the one country, two systems principle, bringing the city closer to a full merging of the systems and transforming the former British colony into another Chinese city.
Professor Fu Hualing, law dean at the University of Hong Kong, warned that the provisions concerning Beijing’s right to override local jurisdiction were largely discrete and not clearly defined.
“Once the central government takes over [jurisdiction], it takes away everything,” said Fu. “For the first time, national laws on criminal matters apply in Hong Kong and there is built-in rendition.”
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said that the mainland’s sweeping power in law enforcement would severely infringe upon the human rights and freedoms in the city.
“Beijing has the final say on what case will fall into the category of China’s jurisdiction,” he said. “They can arbitrarily arrest and extradite anyone to China for secret trials.”
“It is shameless for them to say they are safeguarding the ‘one country, two systems’.”
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