The UK, EU and NATO have expressed concern and anger after China passed a controversial security law that gives it new powers over Hong Kong.
President Xi Jinping signed the law and it is being included in the Hong Kong mini-constitution, criminalizing sedition and effectively reducing protests.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended the law and said it filled a “gap” in national security.
A key pro-democracy group said it was now ceasing all operations.
Demosisto announced the move on Facebook after Joshua Wong, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent activists, said he was leaving the group, which he had led.
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Beijing is expected to clarify the law later on Tuesday. No draft was made public in advance, and even Ms. Lam said she was unable to comment on its terms while the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress discussed them.
The Hong Kong government said in a statement that the law would take effect later on Tuesday. Wednesday is the anniversary of the return of sovereignty to China, a day that generally generates great protests in favor of democracy.
China says the law is necessary to address the unrest and instability linked to a pro-democracy movement.
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Opponents say it undermines the autonomy established in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which was agreed when the United Kingdom restored sovereignty to the territory in 1997.
They say civil liberties such as freedom of expression, the right to protest and an independent and robust judiciary are at risk.
What has been the international reaction?
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged China to “step back” and respect the rights of the Hong Kong people.
He said: “Hong Kong’s success, entrepreneurship, vitality, economic success, has been built on its autonomy in ‘one country, two systems’ … That is clearly in jeopardy.”
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European Council President Charles Michel said: “It runs the risk of seriously undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and it will have a detrimental impact on the judiciary and the rule of law and we regret this decision.”
Hong Kong’s last governor of the United Kingdom, Lord Patten, said the law marked the end of one country, two systems.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “It is clear that China does not share our values: democracy, freedom and the rule of law.”
Japan called the law “regrettable” and Taiwan even warned its citizens about the risks of visiting Hong Kong.
The United States has already begun taking steps to end Hong Kong’s special status trade relationship, a move China said Tuesday it would encounter unspecified “countermeasures”.
And within Hong Kong?
There has been a mix of concern for personal safety and defiance on the news.
Demosisto said several members had requested to be removed from the list and that they had decided to “dissolve and stop all meetings.” He said that the fight against “totalitarian oppression” would have to continue in a “more flexible way.”
Joshua Wong said the law marked “the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before.”
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But Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai said he would challenge a ban on a “delivery day” march scheduled for Wednesday, reports the South China Morning Post.
He will be joined by Figo Chan, from the Civil Front for Human Rights, who urged people to take to the streets, saying: “We are aware of the risks of being prosecuted. But we insist on taking the initiative, as Hongkongers mean not to fear” .
Police plan to have 4,000 riot officers on standby.
‘A tool to suppress political unrest’
Analysis by Stephen McDonell, BBC China correspondent
Hong Kong’s new security law is a terribly open tool to suppress political unrest.
Like similar laws on the Chinese mainland, it appears that it can be manipulated to meet the needs of the Communist Party, as needed, to crush almost any action deemed threatening.
Unlike other parts of China, Hong Kong has an independent judiciary. For this reason, the Party leadership was not going to leave the interpretation of this law to any old judge.
No. Those who will be able to preside over these matters will be hand-picked by Carrie Lam, the city leader who was effectively installed by Beijing.
So before the new security bill, what actions by activists, no matter how subversive, could not be addressed under existing laws? What were the “extremists” running away with to guarantee this new legislation?
Bomb manufacturing? No. Destroying buildings? No. Meeting with international NGOs to talk about the deterioration of the liberties of the city? Ahhhh maybe. Publicly advocate for Hong Kong independence? Almost sure
The more Beijing has tried, under Xi Jinping’s leadership, to control Hong Kong, the more it has brought residents into the pro-democratic camp.
But he is playing a long game. Sure, promises of surrender were made to the UK, but he wasn’t going to let some western attachment to freedom triumph over loyalty to the homeland. Not under your surveillance. Enter the security law.
What does the new law do?
Although its final terms remain to be seen, Beijing announced the law in May and will penalize any act of secession, central government subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces.
The state news agency Xinhua said the six-chapter law had 66 articles, which clearly set out the terms of the four crimes.
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A new office in Hong Kong would deal with national security cases, but would also have other powers, such as overseeing national security education in Hong Kong schools.
In addition, the city will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with an adviser appointed by Beijing.
The Hong Kong chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, a move that has raised fears about judicial independence.
Importantly, Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes precedence.
In a video address to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, Executive Director Carrie Lam said that crimes under the new law would be clearly defined.
He said the law would only target a “small minority” and would not undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, adding: “We respect differences of opinion.”
In recent years, Hong Kong has seen waves of protests demanding more rights. Last year, protests over a now-ruled bill allowing extraditions to the continent turned violent and fueled a broad pro-democracy movement.