China’s top legislative body began its second review of the national security law for Hong Kong on Sunday, according to state media, amid discussion over the severity of the penalties involved.

Xinhua News Agency, which previously reported content of the draft legislation, said the three-day meeting would see lawmakers at the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) flesh out details “in line” with the city’s current situation.

NPCSC beijing
An NPCSC meeting. File photo:

Beijing loyalist Tam Yiu-chung – Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the committee – told reporters on Saturday that he would relay calls for the law to be retroactive but would not pass on any calls to scrap the legislation.

“There’s no point in discussing opposing views anymore because the NPC already made the decision to legislate the national security law for the SAR on May 28,” he added.

Meanwhile, speaking to RTHK, Executive Councillor Ronny Tong responded to reports that the maximum sentence for serious national security crimes would be life imprisonment or, even, being sent to mainland China for trial: “There are very, very few countries in the world who would impose a lesser punishment [than life imprisonment].”

Death penalty fears

Responding to reports that defendants may be sent for trial in the mainland, Tong said he had advised that no Hong Kong defendants be subjected to the death penalty, available under the Chinese judicial system.

Ronny Tong
Ronny Tong. Photo: via CC 2.0.

“I don’t know whether that opinion would be taken on board or not. But my understanding is that in the very rare situation where the Hong Kong courts and the SAR government cannot deal with the offences involved, then the criminal court in the mainland would apply. That means that you know the matter will be tried according to the criminal law on the mainland… That would involve death sentences.”

Wong Kwan-yu, pro-Beijing chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, also said on the same day that penalties under the impending law must be harsher than existing ones in order to create a deterrence. He cited the city’s current maximum penalty for rioting of ten years’ imprisonment rendered a more lenient punishment under the national security law unnecessary.

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“So the [maximum] sentencing has to be more severe than rioting. [The illegal acts] involve secession and subversion and maybe terrorism. You have no idea the extent of harm terrorist activities can cause.”

“When it comes to terrorism, if it is as some sources have said, that the imprisonment period will only be three to ten years, it will be the most lenient in the world. We need the heaviest penalty. Hong Kong jurisdiction has no death penalty. Life imprisonment then.”

Matthew Cheung
Matthew Cheung. Photo: GovHK.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung reiterated previous government statements expressing support for the draft law: “It is a remedy that ensures Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability and redirect Hong Kong back on the right path,” he wrote in a blog post on Sunday.

“The national security legislation aims at preventing, curbing and punishing a minority of lawbreakers to protect the majority of Hong Kong citizens who abide by the law and protect their lives, properties, as well as basic rights and freedom in accordance with the law.”