Hong Kong is about to be governed by a law that most residents have never seen. And it’s already having an effect

According to reports in the Communist Party-controlled media, the law is expected to criminalize crimes such as secession, subversion against the Chinese central government, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. But hours after its approval, details remain vague, limiting a particularly opaque process that has left analysts and activists guessing.

Speaking at a weekly press conference Tuesday morning, city leader Carrie Lam initially declined to answer questions about the law, saying it was “inappropriate for me to comment.” Hours later, she defended him in a video speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying it will restore stability and prosperity to Hong Kong.

His administration appears to have been almost entirely removed from the process; However, it has not prevented them from predicting that the law will only affect a small minority of people in the city and will not harm political liberties and judicial autonomy.

In a statement last week, Lam said the legislation would be “in line with the rule of law” and the “rights and freedoms that are applicable in Hong Kong.”

However, some do not take risks. Several opposition political parties had already dissolved on Tuesday afternoon, and members fear being prosecuted for the new crimes of subversion or secession, which are widely applied in China to crush anti-government dissent.

Cooling effect

Prominent activist Joshua Wong announced shortly after the bill passed that he was leaving Demosisto, the political party he co-founded in 2016 but would continue to campaign independently. Other prominent party figures, including former legislator Nathan Law and activist Agnes Chow, soon followed suit, and what remained of the party’s leadership finally decided to suspend operations.
Chow was banned from running for election in 2018 because of his membership in Demosisto, who had previously called for Hong Kong people to be allowed to decide their own future, including voting on a possible China break.

Such a conversation could be illegal under the new law, if it follows the pattern of similar legislation in China as expected. Wong, Law and Chow have also been heavily involved in lobbying the international community to put pressure on Beijing over Hong Kong, which many hope will be classified as “collusion with foreign forces.”

Two other political parties, the Hong Kong National Front and Studentlocalism, also said they would suspend operations in the city, although both groups, marginal pro-independence parties, said they would continue to work abroad.

Some pro-independence figures are known to have fled Hong Kong in recent months, for fear of being arrested in connection with last year’s violent anti-government protests or the upcoming law. On Sunday, Wayne Chan, coordinator of the Hong Kong Independence Union, confirmed that he had missed bail and left town. He had faced charges related to protests.

“After the national security law is passed, we can anticipate that a large group of political figures will be arrested and can be jailed immediately without bond,” Chan wrote on Facebook.
More subtle signs of a chilling effect were also evident Tuesday as shops and businesses that had previously been highly visible supporters of the city’s protest movement began to remove slogans and images that could be considered illegal.

Legal limbo

While pro-government groups and politicians welcomed the passage of the law (former leader CY Leung offered rewards for future prosecutions) there was great frustration among many Hong Kong people over the continued lack of detail and the feeling of being almost in limbo, knowing that the law has been passed but not what that means.

In a letter to the city government on Monday, Hong Kong Bar Association President Philip Dykes said the secrecy of the law was “truly extraordinary” and asked the government to clarify how minimum rights will be guaranteed. of the citizen.

The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid backed by the Chinese state, said the law was already taking effect, signaling the resignation of Wong and others. Stanley Ng, Hong Kong’s delegate to the National People’s Congress of China, appeared to endorse this view and said in a Facebook video that part of the reason for the secrecy around the law was to allow “intimidation and deterrence.”

Such uncertainty will likely persist beyond Tuesday night, when the bill is finally expected to go public and be published. Regardless of how crimes are described or punishments are established, many will be watching to see how vigorously they are enforced by police and prosecutors.

A key test will be held on Wednesday, when Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of the city’s move to Chinese rule. The day has traditionally seen an anti-government march through the city, but the protest has been banned this year.

Organizers say they will go ahead anyway. However, it remains to be seen how many people join them and what crimes, if any, those people are considered to be committing if they do.