Hong Kong: Passing a law giving the government more powers to curb dissent

HONG KONG – Hong Kong lawmakers unanimously approved a New national security law Tuesday gives the government more power to crack down on dissent, which is widely seen as the latest step in a wide-ranging political crackdown sparked by pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The Legislative Council approved Draft law protecting national security During a private session. The law will expand the authorities' ability to prosecute citizens on charges that include “collusion with external forces” to commit illegal acts, as well as accusing them of treason, rebellion, espionage, and divulging state secrets, among other matters.

This comes on top of a similar security law imposed by Beijing in 2020, which has already largely silenced opposition voices in the financial hub. Critics worry that the new law will further erode civil liberties that Beijing promised to preserve for 50 years when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong's Legislative Council is packed with Beijing loyalists After electoral reform, the law was quick to approve. since The bill has been unveiled On March 8, the committee held daily meetings for a week, following a call by Hong Kong leader John Lee to push the law “at full speed.” After the vote, Lee said the law would go into effect on Saturday.

“Today is a historic moment for Hong Kong,” he said.

The newly approved law threatens severe penalties for a wide range of acts that authorities describe as threats to national security, the most severe of which – including treason and rebellion – are punishable by life imprisonment. Less serious crimes, including possession of seditious publications, can result in several years in prison. Some provisions allow criminal prosecutions for acts committed anywhere in the world.

Hong Kong has passed a tough new security law, AP correspondent Charles De Ledesma reports.

Legislative Council Speaker Andrew Leung said in the morning that he believes all lawmakers are honored to participate in this “historic mission.” Council presidents usually choose not to participate in such votes. However, this time, Leung cast his vote to mark the occasion.

See also  Afghan religious scholars criticize the ban on girls' education

John Burns, emeritus professor of public policy and administration at the University of Hong Kong, said the process reflects the city's “crippled accountability system, weakened by design.”

He said that legislators studied the draft law in detail and that the government adopted some of the amendments proposed by legislators. However, Burns said many lawmakers focused during the discussion on ways to expand state control over national security issues and increase penalties for related crimes. He added that the executive authorities are happy to oblige them.

“For those who care about accountable government, the process is disappointing, but not surprising, given the centrally imposed changes since 2020,” Burns said.

Simon Yeung, a professor at the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Law, said the legislature did more than just “rubber rubber stamp” the law, noting that officials attended lengthy meetings to clarify and amend the bill. But in the past, lawmakers may have sought expert opinions, Young said.

He added: “It is unfortunate that this did not happen on this occasion.”

But China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong said Tuesday that the legislation indicates that a strong “firewall” has been built for the city's stability and prosperity, allowing it to focus on promoting economic development and improving people's livelihood. Lee also said other countries have passed laws to address risks when needed.

Hong Kong's political landscape has changed dramatically since massive street protests in 2019 that challenged China's rule over the semi-autonomous territory and the imposition of Beijing's national security law.

Many prominent activists have been put on trial, while others have sought refuge abroad. Influential pro-democracy media outlets such as Apple Daily and Stand News have been shut down. The crackdown led to a mass exodus of disillusioned young professionals and middle-class families to the United States, Britain, Canada, and Taiwan.

See also  The Congo floods have left more than 200 people dead and many missing

Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, requires the city to enact a local national security law. A previous attempt in 2003 sparked massive street protests that attracted half a million people and forced the legislation, known locally as Section 23, to be shelved. Such protests against the current bill have been largely absent due to the chilling effect of the current security law.

The Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the law imposed by Beijing has restored stability after the 2019 protests.

Officials insist that the new security law balances security with the protection of rights and freedoms. The city government said it was necessary to prevent a recurrence of protests, and that it would only affect a “very small minority” of residents.

The new law includes tough penalties for people convicted of endangering national security in certain crimes if they are found to be working with foreign governments or organizations rather than acting alone. For example, the law targets those who destroy public infrastructure with the intention of endangering the state and can sentence them to 20 years in prison, or life if they collude with external forces. In 2019, protesters occupied Hong Kong airport and vandalized railway stations.

Businessmen and journalists expressed this Fears Such a broad law would affect their daily work.

Observers are watching closely to see whether the authorities will expand enforcement of the law to other professional sectors and how this will affect the freedoms of Hong Kong residents.

The bill's passage quickly sparked criticism.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, denounced the hasty adoption of the bill, calling it a “retrograde step to protect human rights in Hong Kong.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement that “broad definitions of national security and external interference will make it more difficult for those who live, work and do business in Hong Kong” and continue to “erode freedoms” there.

See also  Forest fires ravaged by Spain amid record heat wave

The EU said the bill has the potential to “significantly impact” the work of the EU office and consulates of EU member states and could affect EU citizens, organizations and companies in Hong Kong. “This also raises questions about Hong Kong’s long-term attractiveness as an international business centre,” she said in a statement.

The US State Department said during a daily press conference that the law could “accelerate the closure of Hong Kong's previously open society” and expressed concerns about the ambiguity of its language. Department spokesman Vedant Patel said the department will analyze the potential risks of the law to American citizens and companies. He declined to say whether the United States would take any action, as some American lawmakers have called for.

The White House did not have an immediate response to the Hong Kong security law when reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday asked Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Rep. Chris Smith and Sen. Jeff Merkley, who lead a congressional panel on China, urged the Biden administration to punish Hong Kong officials over the new legislation, which they said “further restricts basic freedoms and strips due process rights, making Hong Kong less important.” Safe for US residents and businesses.

Michael McCaul, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that China's control over the city's “legal, economic and political system” makes clear that Hong Kong is no longer a safe place for anyone who believes in democracy or a viable state. A place to do global business.”


Associated Press writers Didi Tang and Seung-Min Kim in Washington and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *