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

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According to information published in the media controlled by the Communist Party, the law should criminalize crimes such as secession, subversion against the Chinese central government, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. But a few hours after his visit, the details remain vague, capping a particularly opaque process that has left analysts and activists guess.

Speaking at a weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, city chief Carrie Lam initially refused to answer questions about the law, saying it was “inappropriate for me to comment.” A few hours later, she defended it later in a video speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying it would restore stability and prosperity in Hong Kong.

His administration appears to have been almost completely wiped out of the process – but that hasn’t stopped them from predicting that the law will only affect a tiny minority of people in the city and won’t harm political freedoms and judicial autonomy .

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

Some, however, take no risks. Several opposition political parties had already been disbanded Tuesday afternoon, with members fearing prosecution under the new offenses of subversion or secession, which are widely used in China to crush anti-government dissent.

Cooling effect

Prominent activist Joshua Wong announced soon after the bill was passed that he was leaving Demosisto, the political party he co-founded in 2016, but would continue to campaign independently. Other party figures, including former lawmaker Nathan Law and activist Agnes Chow, quickly followed suit, and what was left of party leadership ultimately decided to cease operations.

Chow was prevented from running for office in 2018 due to his membership in Demosisto, who had previously asked that the Hong Kongers be allowed to decide their own future, including voting on a potential break from China.

Such speech could be illegal under the new law, if it follows the pattern of similar legislation in China as intended. Wong, Law and Chow have also been heavily involved in lobbying the international community to pressure Beijing over Hong Kong, which many expect to call “complicity with foreign forces”.

Two other political parties, the Hong Kong National Front and Studentlocalism, also said they would cease operations in the city, although the two groups – marginal pro-independence parties – said they would continue to work on the stranger.

Some pro-independence figures are known to have fled Hong Kong in recent months, fearing they would be arrested because of the often violent anti-government protests last year or the law to come. Wayne Chan, head of the Hong Kong Independence Union, said on Sunday that he had lifted the bond and left the city. He was facing charges related to protests.

“After the National Security Law is passed, we can expect that a large number of politicians will be arrested and can be imprisoned immediately without bail,” Chan wrote on Facebook.

More subtle signs of a cooling effect were also highlighted on Tuesday as shops and businesses that were previously 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 chief C.Y. Leung offered bonuses for future lawsuits – there was great frustration among many Hong Kongers over the continuing lack of detail and the feeling of being almost in limbo, knowing that the law had been passed but not what it meant .

In a letter to the city government on Monday, Hong Kong Bar Association president Philip Dykes said the secrecy of the law was “really extraordinary” and called on the government to clarify how the minimum fees citizens will be guaranteed.

The Global Times, a state-supported Chinese nationalist tabloid, said the law was already in effect, pointing to the resignation of Wong and others. Stanley Ng, a delegate from Hong Kong to the National People’s Congress, seemed to agree with this view, saying in a Facebook video, part of the reason for the secrecy around the law was to allow “intimidation and deterrence”.

Such uncertainty is likely to persist beyond Tuesday evening, when the bill is finally expected to be made public and published in the official gazette. Regardless of how the offenses are described or the penalties provided, many will monitor the rigor with which the police and prosecutors apply them.

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

The organizers say they will continue anyway. It remains to be seen how many people join them and what offenses – if any – these people are deemed to commit if they do.



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