Beijing passed a comprehensive national security law for Hong Kong that critics fear will crush political freedoms and pave the way for China to cede control over semi-autonomous territory.
Less than 40 days after Chinese lawmakers first proposed imposition of an anti-sedition law in Hong Kong, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress approved the measure on Tuesday, according to officials and multiple media reports.
Tam Yiu-chung, former chairman of the DAB pro Beijing party and sole member of the Hong Kong standing committee, told local media that the law had been passed. The full text of the law had not yet been published.
The legislation, which criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, deals a devastating blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy as promised under “one country, two systems”, the terms of the surrender of the former British colony to Chinese control in 1997. Rights advocates and legal scholars believe the law, which will take effect on July 1, will be widely used to suppress dissent.
“Passing the national security law is a painful time for the people of Hong Kong and represents the greatest threat to human rights in the city’s recent history,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, head of the China team at Amnesty International.
“From now on, China will have the power to impose its own laws on any criminal suspect it chooses,” he said.
On Monday, residents awaited full details of the law, which was unanimously passed by China’s rubber-stamping legislature, according to Hong Kong media. The publisher of the state-run Global Times said the heaviest sentence would be life imprisonment, while Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK said some especially “serious” cases can be handled in Chinese courts. in mainland China.
According to a summary previously published by Chinese state media, the law will cause Beijing to establish a national security agency in Hong Kong to “guide” the implementation of the law in the territory. It will also have jurisdiction over cases in “certain circumstances”. If discrepancies arise, security legislation will override Hong Kong law. The law promises to protect the civic rights of Hong Kong residents But critics say such language means little given how similar laws are used in mainland China.
In the decades following the surrender, Hong Kong’s free press, independent courts and legislature, as well as its traditions of protests and marches, have made the city a haven for civil liberties not enjoyed at the border , especially since the Xi Jinping government has done so. cracked down on civil society.
Those differences were highlighted last year when the protests, over another controversial bill that residents saw as a further Chinese invasion of their city, turned into a broader democratic movement.
Authorities have made clear that the legislation is aimed at stopping those protests, which has created further diplomatic tensions as countries have condemned Beijing’s movement to force the Hong Kong law. On Tuesday, Japan called the development “regrettable,” while Taiwan warned its citizens not to visit the city.
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who is opening an office dedicated to helping residents fleeing Hong Kong, said the latest move by Beijing shows that the one-country-two-system formula “is not feasible.”
“We hope that the people of Hong Kong will continue to adhere to the freedom, democracy and human rights that they cherish,” he told the media.
The United States said on Monday it would stop exporting sensitive military items to Hong Kong as it moved to revoke the city’s special trade status as separate from China. The United States has also said it would limit visas for current and former Chinese officials who consider themselves “responsible or complicit in undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
Lam said Tuesday: “Any sanction will not intimidate us. Our country will have countermeasures. “
Critics say the law marks Beijing’s complete takeover of Hong Kong, promising 50 years of a “high degree of autonomy” after surrender. The national security law will be enacted directly into Hong Kong law through a legal move that avoids the territory’s own legislature and the possibility of public dissent stopping the process. The massive protests in 2003 halted similar legislation attempted by the Hong Kong government.
“A national security law was enforced in Hong Kong through a process over which no one in Hong Kong had control, with content that no one in Hong Kong was aware of. That should end the nation that Hong Kong remains autonomous in any meaningful way, ”said Alvin Cheung, a legal scholar who focuses on Hong Kong issues at the University of New York Institute of American and Asian Law. York.
Prominent activists believe they are likely to be arrested a few days after the law’s enactment. Last year, police arrested more than 9,000 protesters, including legislators and pro-democracy activists who frequently lobbied to draw international attention to the Hong Kong cause.
“From now on, Hong Kong enters a new ear of the reign of terror,” wrote activist Joshua Wong on Twitter. “However, even under … the direct authoritarian government of China, Hong Kongers will continue to fight … When justice fails, our fight continues,” he said.
Wong and two other prominent activists resigned from their Demosisto political party hours after the news of the law’s passage. Other protesters said they would remove their social media profiles.
The passage of the law comes in time for an annual protest on Wednesday, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s surrender to control of Beijing. Police have banned the march, which has been held every year since 1997, citing Covid’s concerns, but activists have said they would still demonstrate.
On Lihkg.com, a site popular with protesters, users asked people to come out to “celebrate” the passage of the law. “July 1, we are going to the streets to celebrate,” said one. Referring to the park where the annual rally takes place, another said, “See you at Victoria Park on July 1.”