Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that citizens can say what they want “for the time being,” while assuring the city that people’s freedoms will not be jeopardised under the looming national security law.

At a press conference before the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam hit back at criticism over Beijing’s plan to bypass the local legislature and promulgate laws to prevent, stop and punish behaviour in Hong Kong that it deems a threat to national security.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam at a press conference on May 25. Photo: Jennifer Creery/ HKFP.

She refuted claims that the draft law would endanger One Country, Two Systems and people’s freedom as “false” and “absurd,” adding that overseas governments have no power to “intervene” on the matter.

Lam was asked about concerns over the operation of Chinese national security agencies in the city, as well as what specific acts would be considered in breach of the legislation that prohibits subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism.

She admitted the content of the legislation has yet to be publicised, but said the principles listed in the draft decision were “reassuring,” adding that the law only targets an “extremely small group” while protecting the majority of citizens.

In March, a poll by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute showed that 63 per cent of respondents supported the pro-democracy protests.

“Some of the things you have said about mainland agencies coming down to arrest people undergoing protests and they will be arrested for calling the chief executive to step down – at the moment are [in] your imagination,” Lam said.

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She added: “We are a very free society. For the time being, people have this freedom to say whatever they want to say. But ultimately, what is to be provided in this piece of legislation is for all of us see in order to be assured that Hong Kong’s freedoms will be preserved.”

Lam said that a small minority who “organise and participate in terrorist activities to subvert the state power” will need to be tackled with the legislation.

Freedoms are not absolute

The National People’s Congress is expected to vote on the resolution on Thursday. Beijing’s move to implement national security laws in Hong Kong has alarmed democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.

On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai to rally against the national security law. Police fired tear gas and deployed water cannon, while at least 180 people were arrested, mainly in connection with allegedly participating in an illegal assembly.

Lam criticised protesters for attacking a lawyer and calling for independence.

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The Hong Kong leader told reporters that there were more than 10,000 public order events each year, which she cited as proof of “Hong Kong’s vibrancy and respect for rights and freedoms.” Lam said it would not be reasonable for her to guarantee which type of protest would be allowed and banned under the national security law.

“[R]ights and freedoms are not absolute,” Lam said. “Protest itself is an expression of freedom and rights and opinions, if it is done in a legal way. You must observe the law.”

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.