A controversial national security law imposed by China on Hong Kong has entered into force, punishing crimes of secession, sedition and collusion with foreign forces with conditions of up to life in prison.
Beijing says the law is necessary to deal with separatism and foreign interference, but critics fear the legislation, which was passed in record time and was not released until after its passage Tuesday, will ban dissent and destroy the autonomy promised when Hong Kong was returned from the United Kingdom to China in 1997.
Chinese President Xi Jinping signed the contentious law about 40 days after the central government introduced the bill in Beijing.
It entered into force at 15:00 GMT, one hour before the 23rd anniversary of the transfer of former British territory to Chinese rule.
The new set of powers radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong, tearing down the legal firewall that has existed between the city’s independent judiciary and party-controlled courts on the mainland.
It allows China to establish a national security agency in the city, with personnel who are not subject to local law in the performance of their duties.
It prohibits four types of national security crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.
The full text of the law gave three scenarios in which China could take charge of a prosecution: complicated cases of foreign interference, “very serious” cases and when national security faces “serious and realistic threats”.
“Both the national security agency and Hong Kong can request that the case be transferred to mainland China and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate will carry out the prosecution and the trial will be in the Supreme Court,” the law said.
“It doesn’t matter if the violence was used or if the threat of violence was used, the leaders or serious criminals will be sentenced to life in prison or a minimum of 10 years in prison,” he said.
“The Hong Kong government has no jurisdiction over the Hong Kong national security agency and its staff when they are fulfilling the duties provided for in this law,” he added.
The text also specified that those who destroy public facilities and services would be considered subversive. Damaging public transport facilities and arson would constitute acts of “terrorism”. Anyone who participates in secessionist activities, whether organizing or participating, will violate the law regardless of whether violence is used.
The law also said that certain national security cases could be carried out behind closed doors without juries in Hong Kong if they contained state secrets, although the verdict and eventual trials would be made public.
After the passage of the law, prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Nathan Law issued statements on Facebook saying they would withdraw from the pro-democracy organization Demosisto.
Wong said “worrying about life and security” has become a real problem and no one can predict the repercussions of the law, whether he is extradited to China or faces long prison terms.
The legislation marked “the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,” he said, adding: “From now on, Hong Kong enters a new era of reign of terror. With radical powers and ill-defined laws, the city is it will become a secret police state. “
Later, Demosisto announced on Facebook that it was dissolving, saying that the loss of major members made continuation difficult.
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, noted that the passage of the law had been accelerated.
“It is very symbolic that this law was passed only one day before the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to mainland China,” he said. “It seems that Beijing tells people that at the end of the day it is China who is in charge in Hong Kong and the leaders of China will do whatever they deem necessary to protect Hong Kong.”
China first announced its plan to impose the legislation on the eve of the National People’s Congress last month, after nearly a year of protests in the territory that started over an extradition project now withdrawn with the mainland.
The security bill gave new impetus to the protests, which had calmed down as the coronavirus pandemic made it more difficult to hold mass meetings and triggered condemnation from countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.
On Tuesday, more than 100 protesters gathered at a shopping mall in Hong Kong’s central business district, chanting slogans that included “Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now,” with several holding a flag representing an independent Hong Kong, as well as posters. who condemn the law.
Activists are calling for new protests on July 1 even though police have said there are no protests due to the coronavirus. About 4,000 police officers are expected to be on hold Wednesday when an official ceremony is also being held.
Adrian Brown of Al Jazeera, reporting from Hong Kong, said the mood in the city was grim.
The passage of the law “had an immediate and chilling impact. We went out on the street at lunchtime to speak to ordinary people at lunchtime to try to assess their opinions and none of them wanted to comment; that is very unusual. here in Hong Kong, “he said.
“People will now vote with their feet and leave en masse.”
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.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, speaking by video with the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, said the law would fill a “gap” and would not undermine the territory’s autonomy or its independent judiciary.
Lam said Hong Kong had been “traumatized by the escalation of violence fueled by external forces” and added: “No central government could turn a blind eye to such threats to sovereignty and national security.”
“We hope that the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from creating problems,” said Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s only representative on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which approved the law on Tuesday morning.
“Don’t let Hong Kong be used as a tool to divide the country,” he said.
The legislation pushes Beijing further on a collision course with the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western governments, which have said it erodes the high degree of autonomy that was given to the city in its surrender.
Already in dispute with the Beijingover trade, the South China Sea and the new coronavirus, Washington began removing Hong Kong’s special status under US law on Monday, halting defense exports and restricting access to the technology.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement, 27 countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Japan, said China must reconsider the law that “undermines” Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, read the statement at the world body’s Human Rights Council, on behalf of all signatories.
All 27 countries have “deep and growing concerns” about the new security law, which has clear implications for the human rights of people in Hong Kong, according to the statement.
Imposing the law without the direct participation of the Hong Kong people, legislature or judiciary “undermines” the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that guarantees Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms, the signatories said .
“We urge the governments of China and Hong Kong to reconsider the enforcement of this legislation and to engage the Hong Kong people, institutions and the judiciary to prevent further erosion of the rights and freedoms that the Hong Kong people have enjoyed during many years, “the statement said. said.
Signatories included Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and 15 states of the European Union, including the Netherlands and Sweden.
China has decided to break its promises to the people of Hong Kong and go against its obligations to the international community.
🇬🇧 We will not turn our backs on the commitments we have made with the people of Hong Kong. pic.twitter.com/ir19ghzq28
– Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) June 30, 2020
Earlier on Tuesday, Dominic Raab, the British foreign secretary, called the passage of the law a “serious step”, before adding on Twitter: “China has decided to break its promises to the people of Hong Kong and fulfill its obligations with the international community. The UK will not turn its back on the commitments we have made to the people of Hong Kong. “
Japan described the move as “regrettable”, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said he was “very disappointed” by the result and Charles Michel, president of the Council of the European Union, said the bloc “deplores” the decision .
And Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty International China, said “Beijing’s goal is to rule Hong Kong through fear from now on.”
China has responded to the protests, denouncing “interference” in its internal affairs.