With Unusual Speed, Hong Kong Pushes Strict New Security Law

Under pressure from Beijing, officials in Hong Kong are scrambling to pass a long-shelved national security law that could impose life imprisonment for treason, insurrection and colluding with external forces, stiff penalties aimed at further curbing dissent in the Asian financial center.

The law known as Article 23 has long been a source of public discontent in Hong Kong, a former British colony that had been promised certain freedoms when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Now, it is expected to be enacted with unusual speed in the coming weeks.

China’s Communist Party officials, who have long pressed the city to push through this law, appeared in recent days to make their urgency clear. After meeting with a senior Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong, the city’s top leader, John Lee, reportedly cut short his visit to Beijing to return to the city, vowing to get the law “enacted as soon as possible.” The Hong Kong legislature and Mr. Lee’s cabinet, the Executive Council, hastily called meetings to discuss the law.

The full draft of the law was only made public for the first time on Friday, as lawmakers began to review it. It targets five offenses: treason, insurrection, sabotage, external interference, and theft of state secrets and espionage.

Mr. Lee said the law is necessary to close gaps in an existing national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 that was used to quash pro-democracy protests and jail opposition lawmakers and activists. Mr. Lee has depicted Hong Kong as a city under mounting national security threats, including from American and British spy agencies.

Critics say the law will stifle more freedoms in the city of 7.5 million people by curbing their right to speech and protest, while also further diminishing the autonomy Hong Kong is granted under a “one country, two systems” formula with China.

Legal experts say criticism of the government can now be interpreted as sedition, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to seven years, which can be increased to 10 years if it involves collusion with an “external force.”

“This law will have far-reaching impacts on human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong,” said Thomas Kellogg, the executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. “It’s clear that the government is continuing to expand its national security tool kit to crack down on its political opponents.”

The government has sought to show that the legislation is widely accepted, pointing to a one-month period of public consultation — based on a document that described only in broad terms the scope of the law — that officials said drew mostly supportive comments.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association has expressed concerns about the law over the potential new limitations on press freedom.

The Bar Association of Hong Kong had recommended that the law’s definition of sedition include the intention to incite violence and narrow the scope of the offense. However, the draft of the law did not include such language.

Mr. Kellogg said the speed in which the government is moving to enact the law suggests concerns raised in the consultation period were not likely to have been taken seriously.

“This does indeed suggest that the government did not really plan to seriously engage with public submissions, and that they were likely going to execute on their planned legislation from the get go,” Mr. Kellogg said.

The government first tried to enact Article 23 in 2003, but retreated after hundreds of thousands of residents who were concerned that it would limit civil liberties held major protests

Olivia Wang contributed research.

Source link

Leave a Comment

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

Scroll to Top