Hongkongers convicted under the city’s new national security law could be imprisoned for life. The full text of Beijing’s controversial legislation for the city was only revealed on Tuesday night, hours after it passed at China’s top legislature. It was rolled out ahead of July 1, traditionally a day of large-scale pro-democracy protests in the city.
Acts of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces will carry a minimum of 10 years and maximum of life in prison for serious cases, according to the text which was gazetted at just after 11pm.
Arson and vandalising public transport with an intent to intimidate the Hong Kong government or Chinese government for political purposes will constitute acts of terrorism under the new law.
On Tuesday morning, China’s rubber-stamp parliament passed the sweeping law to criminalise sedition, foreign interference and terrorism – a law which critics say will quash political dissent and freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory. The unanimous vote came a little over a month after Beijing announced its decision to impose the law without local legislative oversight, following a year of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in the city.
The new law states that Hong Kong shall have jurisdiction to prosecute national security offences, except where it has “realistic difficulties” due to the involvement of foreign forces, due to the seriousness of the situation; or in cases where the country is faced with grave realistic threats.
Under such conditions, Clause 56 states that China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate can stipulate “relevant procuratorates” to prosecute, while the Supreme People’s Court can stipulate “relevant courts” for trial – under Chinese criminal law.
According to the new law, Beijing is to set up an office for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong, with personnel dispatched from relevant Chinese security agencies. It states that Hong Kong will have no jurisdiction over the new offices in Hong Kong, nor can it oversee the behaviour, search or inspect law enforcement personnel.
The law, however, did not make any reference to extradition to the mainland, or retrospectivity following fears it could be backdated. But it says that members of the press and the public may be barred from hearing part of – or the entirety of – cases involving classified information of the state.
Further, it states that China’s new national security office in Hong Kong, the existing Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC in Hong Kong and the local government will take necessary measures to strengthen the management of international groups, foreign NGOs and news organisations that operate in the city.
Lam calls for int’l respect
Chief Executive Carrie Lam kept tight-lipped during the morning over reports that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress had passed the law, saying she could not comment and had not seen the final draft.
Speaking in the afternoon with the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva via video link, she said foreign criticism amounted to “double standards,” adding the law would not be retroactive and that mainland authorities would have jurisdiction in “rare, specified” offences.
“We respect differences in opinion and thrive on reaching consensus. But the One Country principle is non-negotiable and could not be compromised as without One Country, Two Systems will stand on shaky ground and Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity will be at risk.”
The issue of potential fugitive transfers across the border triggered mass protests last June after the Hong Kong government tried to ram through an ill-fated bill which would have enabled extraditions.
The police force have banned the annual July 1 pro-democracy march for the first time in 17 years citing violence during previous rallies and public health concerns amid Covid-19. Organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front, were denied an appeal at court on Tuesday evening.
Demonstrators are nevertheless expected to gather at around 2pm in Causeway Bay following a government Establishment Day ceremony and flag-raising event at 8am.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Independence Union became the latest group to disband on Tuesday, hours after the security law was approved. Its convenor – wanted by police – has fled the city. Earlier, pro-democracy group Demosisto shut shop, whilst the pro-independence Studentlocalism group and the Hong Kong National Front said they would cease local operations but continue work overseas.