HONG KONG / BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s parliament on Tuesday passed national security legislation for Hong Kong, setting the stage for the most radical changes in the lifestyle of the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule 23 years.
The details of the law, which responds to last year’s often violent pro-democracy protests in the city and aims to address subversion, terrorism, separatism and collusion with foreign forces, have yet to be released. published.
However, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam welcomed the passage of the law and said it would take effect later on Tuesday, giving the city’s 7.5 million people little time to digest what It is expected to be highly complex legislation.
Amid fears that the law will crush the freedoms of the world financial center, and reports that the heaviest penalty would be life in prison, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong’s group Demosisto said it would dissolve.
“It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,” Wong said on Twitter.
The legislation pushes Beijing even further on a collision course with the United States, Britain and other western governments, which have said it erodes the high degree of autonomy that the city was granted in its July 1, 1997 installment. .
Already in dispute with China over trade, the South China Sea and the coronavirus, the United States began removing Hong Kong’s special status under US law on Monday, halting defense exports and restricting access to the technology.
China said it would retaliate.
Lam, in a video message to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, called on the international community to “respect our country’s right to safeguard national security.”
She said the law would not undermine the city’s autonomy or its independent judiciary.
The Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly said that the legislation is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect the rights and freedoms or the interests of investors.
The editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party of China, said on Twitter that the heaviest penalty under the law was life imprisonment.
When the law was passed in Beijing, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong carried out a drill that included exercises to stop suspicious ships and arrest fugitives, according to the Weibo account on the state military channel’s social media CCTV.
The legislation could have an early test with pro-democracy activists and politicians who say they would challenge a police ban, amid coronavirus restrictions, at a rally on the anniversary of the July 1 handover.
At last year’s rally, which came amid a series of pro-democracy protests, a crowd stormed and smashed the city’s legislature.
“We will never accept the passage of the law, even though it is so overwhelming,” said Democratic Party Chairman Wu Chi-wai.
It is unclear whether attending the unauthorized demonstration would constitute a national security crime.
A majority in Hong Kong opposes the legislation, a poll conducted by Reuters this month showed, but support for the protests has been reduced to a slim majority.
Police dispersed a handful of activists protesting against the law in a shopping center.
Dozens of Beijing supporters popped champagne corks and waved Chinese flags in celebration outside the government headquarters.
“I’m very happy,” said an older man, whose last name was Lee.
“This will leave anti-China spies and the people who brought chaos to Hong Kong with nowhere to go.”
This month, China’s official Xinhua news agency revealed some of the provisions of the law, including that it would replace existing Hong Kong legislation and that the powers of interpretation belong to the top committee of China’s parliament.
Beijing is expected to establish a national security office in Hong Kong for the first time and could also exercise jurisdiction in certain cases.
Judges for security cases are expected to be appointed by the city’s executive director. Senior judges now assign lists through Hong Kong’s independent judicial system.
It is not known what specific activities should be made illegal, how precisely they are defined or what punishment they entail.
Britain, the European Union, Japan, Taiwan and others have also criticized the legislation.
China has responded to the protests, denouncing “interference” in its internal affairs.
Additional reports by Yanni Chow, Carol Mang, Joyce Zhou, Tyrone Siu, Jessie Pang and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Written by Marius Zaharia; Edition of Michael Perry, Robert Birsel