In less than a week, the atmosphere in Hong Kong has radically changed. People have been arrested for possession of material deemed “subversive”. Colored “Lennon walls” with pro-democracy messages have been torn down or replaced with blank notes after police warnings. The political groups have dissolved. Authorities have ordered schools to remove books that could “endanger” national security while public libraries have released sensitive books. The police no longer need search warrants for national security matters. A hotel in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong was turned into a national security office and opened on Wednesday.The law – which punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, up to life imprisonment – has been criticized by legal experts for its broad and vague definitions that would allow authorities to pursue whoever they want. National security cases can also be referred to Chinese courts for trial.
Undertaking not to abandon their mission, Wong, Lee and To say they are ready to go to prison. Wong, 23, the face of the Umbrella 2014 movement who has already been imprisoned three times, told the Guardian that he had “no other choice” than to continue.
Beijing described him as the “black hand” of foreign forces for its campaign of international support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong – an accusation that leaves it vulnerable to the accusation of “collusion” with the new law, punishable by penalties from three years in prison to life imprisonment.
“Every night I fall asleep, I still think I could be sent to China the next day,” said Wong. “But since we do not know where the red line is, we can only continue to resist and continue our fight for democracy.”
One day after the law was passed, Wong was campaigning on the streets. The group he co-founded, Demosisto, was disbanded a few hours before the national security law was passed, but Wong still hopes to run in the legislative council elections in September. He is unlikely to succeed, as authorities barred him from running for district council elections in 2019, accusing his group of defending independence.
“Despite the deterrent effect of the law, we need to think about ways to resist it,” he said.
Even veteran pro-democracy politicians are filled with concern.
Lee Cheuk-yan, 63, a former lawmaker and labor activist, is confident that he too will be imprisoned soon.
Already facing seven counts of illegal assembly for participating in unapproved rallies, he risks falling under national security law, which prohibits individuals from “colluding” with foreign powers. He testified against the new law before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives on July 1, the day it came into force. Nathan Law, the 26-year-old co-founder of Demosisto, who also testified at the hearing, fled Hong Kong the next day, citing fears for his safety.
“Maybe after all these years, it’s now our turn to become dissidents,” said Lee.
“I just hope they will imprison me in Hong Kong,” said Lee, who was detained in Beijing for three days in 1989 after the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen.
The chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in support of the democratic patriotic movements in China, who for 30 years held candlelight vigils to commemorate the massacre until it was banned this year, is also concerned that his group and museum on the Tiananmen Massacre will not be closed at any time. time.
When asked if he would cut back on his activism, Lee said, “Unless you give up completely, you can’t get around the law.”
“If they want to accuse you, they will find a reason,” he said. “The only thing we can do is continue what we used to do. ”
James To, a frank lawyer and legislator, also fears that he will be implicated for “collusion” with foreign powers. In 2019, he, Lee, Law and lawyers Martin Lee and Margaret Ng met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the political crisis in Hong Kong. Apart from him and Law, all other party members were arrested for participating in unapproved protests in 2019.
As the United States prepares to impose sanctions on national security law groups, To said his meeting with Pompeo could be interpreted as “asking a foreign government to impose sanctions” on the Chinese government. , which would justify a three-year prison sentence. until life imprisonment. Although the law is not meant to be retroactive, pro-Beijing figures indicate that the behavior of individuals in the past two years could be used as evidence in national security cases.
“I would be naive not to [expect jail], ” he said. “I already told my eight-year-old son that Dad could go to jail someday, so he must be strong.”
For thinking of mitigating, but said, “If I cannot criticize the government, what is the point of being a legislator?
“I will stay until I can no longer continue,” he said. “But there will always be a risk. If they want to stop me, there is nothing I can do. ”
Lee believes the deletion will only work in the short term. He now compares Hong Kong to Czechoslovakia or Poland during the communist era and says that people have been awakened by recent social movements.
“The diet is so powerful, but you can never remove the spirit of defiance,” said Lee. “It may go underground for a while, but when a chance presents itself, people will come back.”
“This spirit will never be crushed. “