For Jennifer Tsui, the impending national security law agreed last month by the Chinese legislature looks like Hong Kong’s “real” return to China.
When Hong Kong returned from British sovereignty to Chinese sovereignity on July 1, 1997, Tsui, then a student, was apprehensive, but his concerns dissipated when things seemed almost unchanged after delivery. Hong Kong residents were assured that their lifestyle would remain unchanged until at least 2047 under the “one country two systems” policy guaranteed in the Sino-British joint statement.
But in the past 23 years, freedoms have been gradually eroded. Previous efforts to protect the city from invasions from China, such as the 2003 movement against national security legislation and the 2014 Occupation movement to cry out for free elections for the leader and the legislature, have only resulted in further control. strict by China.
Some predicted tougher measures by Beijing in the wake of the year-long anti-government protest that has disrupted the semi-autonomous city since June 2019. But nothing could have prepared Hongkongers for the impact of China’s move last month to impose national security. radical. law through an annex to the mini-constitution of the city, the Basic Law. China’s top legislative body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, is holding a three-day deliberation on the security law and is expected to pass it on Tuesday.
“It almost feels like an invasion,” said Tsui. “Now that the knife has come down, there is no need to wait until 2047. This time we will truly become China.”
Critics say the new law, aimed at separatism, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, will be used against government opponents and undermine freedoms. Many Hong Kong people fear that the civil liberties they have been proud of will disappear: the rule of law, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, the right to freedom of expression and assembly.
Although some insist that the fight for democracy will continue, they express a feeling of hopelessness and bitterness. Jim Yip, a 26-year-old employee who was arrested for participating in a protest last year, vowed that he would “keep my anger alive” and risk jail by continuing to protest, but admitted: “There is no hope … we are waiting. death “.
China has not disclosed the full content of the bill, but has released an explanatory summary. It stipulates that the Hong Kong government created a new national security commission chaired by the city leader, with an adviser appointed by Beijing. There will also be a national security agency established by China to collect and analyze intelligence and “monitor and supervise” the work of the local government. The new legislation would also allow the Hong Kong leader to choose judges to handle national security cases in the city, a move criticized for undermining the rule of law.
Without defining which activities amount to national security crimes, the draft states that the security law should override Hong Kong law if discrepancies arise. It also states that, in “certain circumstances,” the Beijing-supervised national security agency will have jurisdiction over the cases rather than the Hong Kong courts. Chinese state security agencies would also monitor what authorities say would be “a very small number” of cases.
Hongkongers also fear the application of China’s national security law, which has arbitrarily detained and imprisoned dissidents and activists, after Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing media reported a plan to set up detention centers where suspects in National security cases can be detained indefinitely.
All of this has caused widespread alarm. Some say they will stop protesting, while many have started using VPN software to connect anonymously, delete their posts on social media, or change their username. “They can charge him with whatever they want,” said Serena Ho. “For the sake of our son, I don’t think he protests any more. I feel bad, but it’s too dangerous. “
Experts say their fears are not unfounded. Professor Jerome Cohen, an expert on Chinese law at New York University, said he was concerned about the law because “the breadth of the prescribed definitions is not yet known,” and the law will integrate Hong Kong into the Chinese system that submits criminal justice to security agencies. It is also concerned that national security cases ending in indefinite detention will function as pre-trial incommunicado detention in China, where suspects are held for months before the criminal process begins.
He says that after the arrest in Hong Kong, some people will be tried by judges carefully selected by the Hong Kong leader in a special security court, while the most serious cases will be sent to China, where courts have a fee. of convictions of more than 99%. “At every step, it raises fundamental questions about the extent to which the national security law will deprive the people of Hong Kong of due process of law,” said Cohen.
Officials insist that human rights will still be protected by the UN Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They promised that the laws will focus only on a “limited set of acts”, and say that the vast majority of Hong Kong residents will not be affected. But Cohen claims: “The very provisions of the national security law violate those protections.”
Martin S Flaherty, a visiting law professor at Princeton University who has researched China, Northern Ireland and Turkey, said this type of security law “would reject fundamental due process protections, sweep away legitimate political opposition and innocent people, and not infrequently would be counterproductive, radicalizing the population that meant pacifying. “
National security law has sparked international ire, with the G7 nations urging China to reconsider, though China is unlikely to pay attention. The United States Senate passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Law, which would impose sanctions on individuals or companies that support efforts to restrict Hong Kong’s freedoms.