HONG KONG (Reuters) – China opened its powerful Hong Kong national security office on Wednesday, turning a hotel near a park in the city center that has been one of the most popular venues for pro-democracy protests in its new headquarters.
A police officer passes the water filled barriers after the opening ceremony of a temporary national security office, in Hong Kong, China on July 8, 2020. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The office, which operates beyond the scrutiny of local courts or other institutions, will oversee the Hong Kong government’s implementation of the general national security legislation that Beijing imposed on the city last week.
The law grants its agents, who openly operate in the global financial center for the first time, enforcement powers.
It allows them to take suspects across the border to be tried in Communist Party-controlled courts and grants them special privileges, including the fact that Hong Kong authorities cannot search or arrest them, or even inspect their vehicles. .
It was unclear how many mainland agents will park at the former Metropark Hotel, a 266-room, 33-story building in the Causeway Bay shopping and commercial district near Victoria Park.
At the opening ceremony, the head of the security office, Zheng Yanxiong, said he would strictly enforce the law “without infringing on the legitimate rights and interests of any individual or organization.”
Luo Huining, head of the China Liaison Office in the city, Beijing’s main representative office, said the office was “the guardian of national security” and that people who loved China and Hong Kong welcomed her with approval.
“Those with hidden motives and who are against China and seek to destabilize Hong Kong have not only stigmatized the office, but have also tainted the legal system and the rule of law on the Chinese mainland in an attempt to raise concerns and fears unnecessary among Hong Kong residents, ”said Luo.
The new security law has taken China’s freest city on a more authoritarian path and has led to the condemnation of some Western governments, lawyers and rights groups.
Punish acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Police have arrested at least 10 people, including a 15-year-old boy, on suspicion of threats to China’s national security.
Critics fear it will crush coveted freedoms in the Chinese-ruled city, while supporters say it will bring stability after a year of sometimes violent protests that plunged the former British colony into its biggest crisis in decades.
Officials in Hong Kong and Beijing insist that rights and freedoms would remain intact, but say national security is a “red line.” New security legislation has already begun to change life in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday banned school students from singing “Glory to Hong Kong,” the unofficial anthem of the pro-democracy protest movement.
Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said students should not participate in class boycotts, chant slogans, form human chains, or sing songs that contain political messages, specifically referring to the popular protest anthem.
The books of some pro-democracy activists and politicians have been removed from public libraries. The “Liberate Hong Kong! The Revolution slogan of our times is now illegal. Activists dissolved their organizations or fled. Stores have removed protest-themed products and decorations.
Chief Executive Lam has said the security law was moderate compared to that of other countries, without naming them, but democracy advocates say its content is vague and concerned that the Beijing authorities have final interpretation rights.
Reflecting widespread concern about the legislation, the top US Internet companies, including Facebook (FB.O), Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Zoom have announced that they have suspended the processing of user data requests from Hong Kong authorities while studying it.
The United States has begun to remove Hong Kong’s special status in US law, as Washington no longer considers the global financial center to be sufficiently autonomous from mainland China.
Reports by Donny Kwok, Yanni Chow and Anne Marie Roantree; Written by Marius Zaharia; Edition of Michael Perry, Robert Birsel