Hong Kong is celebrating 23 years since the British government ended when a new “anti-protest” law imposed by Beijing came into effect.
The national security law targets secession, subversion and terrorism with punishments up to life in prison.
Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997, under an agreement that allegedly protects certain freedoms for at least 50 years.
But critics say the law is the “end of Hong Kong” and stops those freedoms.
“[China] He promised 50 years of freedom to the people of Hong Kong and only gave them 23, “said United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
- China’s New Law: Why is Hong Kong Worried?
However, the city leader said the law would “restore stability” after widespread protests in 2019.
“The [new law] it is considered the most important development in relations between the central government and Hong Kong since the handover, “said Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
At the same time, a Chinese official was furious with foreign critics and asked, “What does this have to do with you?”
“The Chinese will not be afraid of anyone,” said Zhang Xiaming of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs office of the State Council. Gone are the days when we had to follow the signals of others. “
Will there be massive protests on the anniversary?
Every year a pro-democratic protest is held on the anniversary, usually attended by tens or hundreds of thousands of people.
But for the first time since the handover, authorities banned the march, citing the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people due to the coronavirus.
Some activists have vowed to defy the ban and march later in the afternoon.
“We march every year … and we will continue to march,” pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung told Reuters.
The photos on social media, confirmed by the police as genuine, showed a flag used to warn protesters about the new law.
A pro-democracy activist warned that there was “a high possibility that we would be arrested.”
“The charges will not be light, judge for themselves,” said Tsang Kin-shing of the League of Social Democrats.
City police officers are on hold, internal sources told the South China Morning Post. They said around 4,000 officers were prepared to handle any concerns.
What does the new law say?
Under the new law, crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a minimum sentence of three years, the maximum being life imprisonment.
Protesters often attacked the city’s infrastructure during the 2019 protests, and under the new law, damaging public transportation facilities can be considered terrorism.
Beijing will also establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel, none of which would be under the jurisdiction of the local authority.
Inciting hatred of the central government of China and the regional government of Hong Kong are now crimes under Article 29.
The law can also be violated from abroad by non-residents, under article 38.
This could mean that foreigners could be arrested if they enter Hong Kong, if they are suspected of violating the new law.
Some critics feared that the law would apply retroactively, that is, to crimes committed before the law was passed, but Zhang said that would not be the case.
He added that suspects arrested in Hong Kong accused of breaking the law can be tried on the mainland.
- Life sentences for violating Hong Kong’s security law
- Beijing to establish new security office in Hong Kong
The activists keep quiet
Under national security law, many of the acts of protest that rocked Hong Kong in the past year could now be classified as subversion or secession … and punishable by life imprisonment.
The city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam said the law had been long overdue. Political activists resigned, and a pro-democracy protester, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that ordinary people are now removing posts on social media.
Many people simply stop talking about politics and stop talking about freedom and democracy, because they want to save their own lives. They want to save their freedom and avoid being arrested.
A contact of mine, a lawyer and human rights activist, sent me a message shortly after the law was passed. Please delete everything in this chat, wrote
What was the reaction?
Pompeo said the “draconian” law “destroyed Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
“Hong Kong demonstrated to the world what a free Chinese people can achieve: one of the most successful economies and the most vibrant societies in the world,” he said.
“But Beijing’s paranoia and fear of the aspirations of his own people have led him to gut the foundations of the territory’s success.”
Meanwhile, Canada has updated its travel advice to Hong Kong, saying: “You may be at increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China.”
Minutes after the law was passed Tuesday, pro-democracy activists began to step down, fearful of the punishment the new law allows.
“With radical powers and ill-defined laws, the city will become a secret police state,” said Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy leader.
The political party he co-founded, Demosisto, also dissolved.
An opposition lawmaker told the BBC that the measure had taken away the city’s rights.
“Our rights are being taken away from us, our freedom is gone, our rule of law, our judicial independence is gone,” said opposition lawmaker Ted Hui.
In the United States, lawmakers on both sides have launched a bill to grant refugee status to Hong Kong residents at risk of persecution, local media reported.
The Taiwanese government has said it will establish a special office to help those in Hong Kong who face immediate political risks.