A controversial national security law imposed by China on Hong Kong has come into force, punishing crimes of secession, sedition and collusion with foreign forces with a sentence of up to life imprisonment.
Beijing says law is necessary to fight separatism and foreign interference, but critics fear the legislation, which was approved in record time and not made public until passed Tuesday, will ban dissent and destroy the autonomy promised in Hong Kong. returned from the United Kingdom to China in 1997.
Chinese President Xi Jinping signed the disputed law some 40 days after the central government introduced the bill in Beijing.
It entered into force at 3:00 p.m. GMT, one hour before the 23rd anniversary of the transition from the former British territory to Chinese rule.
The new series of powers radically restructures relations between Beijing and Hong Kong, overturning the legal firewall that existed between the city’s independent judiciary and the courts controlled by the continent’s parties.
It authorizes China to establish a national security agency in the city, made up of officials who are not bound by local laws in the exercise 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 provided three scenarios in which China could resume prosecution: complicated foreign interference cases, “very serious” cases and when national security faced “serious and realistic threats”.
“The national security agency and Hong Kong can request that the case be transferred to mainland China and the prosecution will be initiated by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the trial will take place before the Supreme Court,” the law said.
“Regardless of whether violence has been used or the threat of violence has been used, leaders or serious offenders will be sentenced to life in prison or a minimum of 10 years in prison,” he added.
“The Hong Kong government has no jurisdiction over the Hong Kong national security agency and its personnel when carrying out the duties of this law,” he added.
The text also clarified that those who destroy government facilities and public services would be considered subversive. Damage to public transportation and arson were allegedly “terrorist” acts. Anyone involved in secessionist activities, whether they organize or participate in it, will violate the law, whether or not it is used.
The law also said that some national security cases could be held behind closed doors without a jury in Hong Kong if they contained state secrets, although the verdict and possible judgments are made public.
After the law was passed, prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Nathan Law posted statements on Facebook saying they would withdraw from the pro-democracy organization Demosisto.
Wong said “worrying about life and safety” has become a real problem and that no one will be able to 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 had known before,” he said, adding, “Now Hong Kong is entering a new era of reign of terror. With extensive powers and an ill-defined law, the city will turn into a secret police state. ”
Demosisto then announced his dismissal on Facebook, saying that the loss of upper limbs made it difficult to continue the task.
Katrina Yu of Al Jazeera, a reporter from Beijing, noted that the adoption of the law had been accelerated.
“It is very symbolic that this law was passed just a day before the anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer from Britain to mainland China,” she said. “It seems that Beijing is telling the people that in the end, it is China that is in charge of Hong Kong and that the Chinese leaders will do whatever they deem necessary to protect Hong Kong. ”
China has announced for the first time its plan to impose legislation on the eve of the National People’s Congress last month, after nearly a year of protests in the territory that began due to a draft law. extradition now withdrawn with the continent.
The security bill gave new impetus to the protests, which had calmed down as the coronavirus pandemic made mass rallies more difficult, and triggered the condemnation of countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.
On Tuesday, more than 100 protesters gathered in a shopping center in the central business district of Hong Kong, chanting slogans like “Free Hong Kong, revolution now”, several waving a flag representing an independent Hong Kong as well as posters condemning the law.
Activists call for new protests on July 1, although police said rallies could not take place because of the coronavirus. Some 4,000 police are expected to be on Wednesday for an official ceremony.
Adrian Brown of Al Jazeera from Hong Kong said the atmosphere in the city was grim.
The passage of the law “had an immediate and frightening impact. We went out on the street at lunchtime to talk to ordinary people at lunchtime to try to gauge their opinions and none of them wanted to comment – it’s very unusual here in Hong Kong, ” he said.
“People will now vote with their feet and leave en masse. ”
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly stated that the legislation targets a few “troublemakers” and will not affect the rights and freedoms or the interests of investors.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, speaking via video link to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, said the law would fill a “gaping hole” and would not affect autonomy. of the territory or its independent judicial system.
Lam said Hong Kong had been “traumatized by the escalation of violence fueled by outside forces” and added, “No central government can turn a blind eye to such threats to national sovereignty and security.”
“We hope the law will act as a deterrent to keep people from stirring up trouble,” said Tam Yiu-Chung, the only Hong Kong representative on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, who approved the law on Tuesday morning.
“Do not 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 is eroding the city’s high degree of autonomy when it was transferred.
Washington, already in conflict with trade in Beijing, the South China Sea and the new coronavirus, began Monday to end Hong Kong’s special status under US law, halting defense exports and restricting access to technologies.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement, 27 countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Japan, said China should reconsider the law that “undermines” Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, read the statement to the World Organization’s Human Rights Council on behalf of all the signatories.
The 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, the statement said.
Imposing the law without the direct participation of the people, the legislative or judicial power of Hong Kong “undermines” the principle “One country, two systems” guaranteeing in Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms, declared the signatories.
“We urge the governments of China and Hong Kong to reconsider the imposition of this legislation and to engage the people, institutions and the justice system of Hong Kong to prevent a further erosion of the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong since many years, “said the press release. said.
The signatories were Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and 15 states of the European Union, including the Netherlands and Sweden.
China has chosen to break its promises to the people of Hong Kong and to go against its obligations to the international community.
🇬🇧 not turn our backs on the commitments we have made to the people of Hong Kong. pic.twitter.com/ir19ghzq28
– Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) June 30, 2020
Earlier Tuesday Dominic Raab, the British foreign minister, called the passage of the law “not serious”, before adding on Twitter: “China has chosen to break its promises to the people of Hong Kong and to go against its obligations to the international community. The United Kingdom will not turn its back on the commitments we have made to the people of Hong Kong. ”
Japan described this decision as “regrettable”, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said he was “very disappointed” with the result and Charles Michel, President of the Council of the European Union, said that the bloc “deplored” the decision.
And Joshua Rosenzweig, director of Amnesty International China, said that “Beijing’s goal is to rule Hong Kong with fear from this point on.”
China responded to the outcry, denouncing “interference” in its internal affairs.