Hong Kong democrats have voiced concern over the security secretary’s failure to clarify whether suspects arrested under the impending national security law could be detained indefinitely without trial or charge.

Officials have kept tight-lipped about details of the controversial legislation, which is being drafted by China’s top legislative body albeit with many Hong Kong ministers left in the dark.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Secretary for Security John Lee on Wednesday evaded a reporter’s request to confirm reports that arrested persons may be held in special detention centres for however long authorities like, in violation of international human rights laws.

“We have to wait until the proper promulgation of the law so that we will know exactly what the law says and requires us to do,” he told reporters at the Legislative Council.

“The preparation work is to ensure that we will be able to discharge [the law’s] functions and responsibilities.”

Secretary for Security John Lee. File photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Despite condemnations by rights activists, governments have defended the practice of indefinite detention when related to matters of national security and terrorism. Notably, China has arbitrarily incarcerated millions including political dissidents and minority groups in Xinjiang’s “re-education centres.”

“It sounds hyperbolic, but anything goes in Hong Kong these days. Reign of terror. Orwellian Hong Kong. They will do anything to frighten Hongkongers into silence and inaction,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told HKFP.

Claudia Mo. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung also told HKFP that despite lack of “textual proof” to support the suggestion, the government’s refusal to disclose details of the law raised the possibility of such a practice: “[K]nowing that China has a track record of unreasonable and prolonged detention of dissidents, it is only logical we expect that to happen in Hong Kong after enactment.”

“If the suggestion reflects the reality, it would be a direct contrary to the legal requirements and a blatant breach of human rights,” he added.

Beijing announced plans to impose the law after months of sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong, which critics have decried will hamstring the city’s freedoms and rule of law.

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.