The Hong Kong Bar Association has said that Beijing’s decision to enact national security laws in Hong Kong shows “worrying and problematic features,” while a former chief executive has hailed the plan as “good medicine” for the “seriously ill” city.

Last week, Beijing announced plans to promulgate laws to prevent, stop and punish behaviours in Hong Kong that it deems a threat to national security. In a statement issued on Monday, the Hong Kong Bar Association challenged the power of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) to insert the legislation into the city’s mini-constitution to criminalise subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism.

Philip Dykes
Hong Kong Bar Association Chairman Philip Dykes. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

“The contents of the proposed HK National Security Law are yet to be publicised. The
HKBA however observes that the Draft Decision discloses a number of worrying and
problematic features pertaining to the proposed HK National Security Law,” the association said.

The organisation regulating barristers in Hong Kong argued that the proposed national security law contains matters that are covered by Article 23 of the Basic Law, and the city is “within the autonomy” to pass relevant laws.

The draft decision would also bypass the local legislature, which the association cited as a concern since the legislation might not comply with provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There was also no assurance that any public consultation on the law would take place, it said.

“This is unprecedented. The public must be allowed the opportunity to properly consider and debate about proposed laws which affect their personal rights and obligations,” the statement read.

arrest causeway bay may 24 2020
Photo: Sam Lee/United Social Press.

As well as prohibiting secessionist and subversive behaviour, the controversial Article 23 would have allowed the Hong Kong government to criminalise acts of treason and sedition. Its legislation failed in 2003 following mass protests, with pro-democracy advocates expressing fears that the law would jeopardise civil liberties. The government has always had enough votes to pass the law, but it has been shelved since the 2003 debacle.

The association also raised concerns over the operation of Chinese national security forces in Hong Kong, saying it was “entirely unclear” whether the agencies would be bound by local laws and what the extent of their powers would be.

‘No reason to be scared’

China’s move to unilaterally introduce national security law 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.

But the city’s first post-handover leader Tung Chee-hwa said on Monday Hongkongers have “no reason to be scared,” stating that the proposed legislation only targets a small group of people. Tung also described the city as being “seriously ill” in the past year – referring to the months-long city-wide unrest originally over a now-axed extradition bill – but it should not “refuse treatment out of fear.”

Tung Chee-hwa
Tung Chee-hwa. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“Legislation for safeguarding national security is not a savage monster, it is good medicine to save Hong Kong from the gridlock,” he said.

Tung also hit back at critics who slammed the draft decision as endangering One Country, Two Systems and citizens’ freedoms. He said those were “baseless” claims in an attempt to stir up public fear, adding that Beijing’s decision was “carefully considered.”

“Now is the time for Hongkongers to show responsibility and uphold One Country, Two Systems. It is the key time to defend the country’s sovereignty and make contributions to Hong Kong’s prolonged prosperity,” he said.

Also on Monday, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng dismissed doubts on the NPC Standing Committee’s power to enact national security laws as “unwarranted.” She added it was “natural and proper” for Beijing to take action on a matter that is “entirely within the purview of the Central Authorities” and would affect 1.4 billion Chinese nationals.

“There are doubts as to whether the NPCSC can legislate national security laws for the HKSAR. Such doubt is totally unwarranted. National security is never part of HKSAR’s autonomy, and indeed never a matter that concerns only the HKSAR,” Cheng said.

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.