Fourteen months after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on Hong Kong, the city’s government and pro-establishment lawmakers are planning several new laws to plug what they see as loopholes in the Basic Law, or constitution.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said her government could make “bold proposals” because the legislature had largely returned to normal following the disqualification of four pro-democracy lawmakers and the subsequent mass resignation of other democrats.

File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In addition, a major political overhaul ordered by Beijing in March will permanently exclude many pro-democracy members from the Legislative Council (LegCo).

HKFP has rounded up some of the government’s proposals, the timelines for legislation, and the opinion of critics about the administration’s plans.

‘Fake news’ legislation

Lam said in April “the government is the biggest victim of fake news,” and that misinformation had made all its work “very difficult.”

According to an investigative report by Stand News, the phrase “fake news” began appearing in government press statements and in speeches by officials and lawmakers at the beginning of the anti-extradition bill protests over two years ago.

Government officials and pro-Beijing lawmakers have since proposed legislating against “fake news” and misinformation, without outlining any exact provisions.

An example of “fake news” often cited by lawmakers and officials was a woman who suffered an eye injury during the 2019 protests. Sing Tao Daily alleged that the woman’s injury was not as serious as initial media reports said, and a columnist accused the Hospital Authority of ““letting lies spread” and tolerating “black violence” to make “fraudulent” claims.”

Hospital Authority. Photo: GovHK.

The Hospital Authority has denied it covered up the case, and said it had already provided the police with relevant medical records.

In July the Legislative Council passed a non-binding motion on “enacting legislation to combat false information on the internet,” proposed by pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat.

Speaking on the motion, Secretary for Security Chris Tang said that “fake news, especially those false messages fabricating facts and inciting hate against the government, cause great harm to society.”

Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui said officials were studying overseas examples of similar legislation. The government has yet to announce any legislative timeline.

The head of Hong Kong’s largest journalist group, Ronson Chan, said that the law would be an additional concern to journalists.

“There is no need to add one more weapon or sword over journalists’ heads,” said the chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, referring to existing legislation including the security law. He said there were already “powerful weapons” which authorities could use to clamp down on alleged falsehoods.

Anti-doxxing law

During the 2019 anti-extradition bill unrest, online databases containing personal information on police officers and government supporters, as well as journalists, were created.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. Photo: PCPD, via Wikimedia Commons.

A report by the the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) revealed in January that victims in 38 per cent of the doxxing complaints it received since major protests began in June 2019 were police officers and their family members, while 30 per cent were supporters of the force or of the government, along with a small number of journalists.

The chief executive told LegCo in February, in her first Q&A session after all democrats quit the legislature, that her administration would prioritise the outlawing of “doxxing” – the act of searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual on the internet with malicious intent.

In May, the government submitted a proposal to LegCo to amend the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, so that offences would be punishable by up to a HK$1 million fine and five years in prison.

In July the administration gazetted the Personal Data (Privacy) (Amendment) bill 2021 and its second reading is expected next month.

Under the bill, the PCPD will be given power to order arrests without a warrant and request that content be removed from websites hosted outside Hong Kong. Under existing laws, it is not mandatory to comply with the PCPD’s requests to remove doxxing content.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group whose members include Google, Facebook and Twitter, warned the Hong Kong government in a letter that the companies might stop offering services in the city if their employees were made criminally liable for users’ doxxing behaviour.

Article 23 security legislation

Hong Kong is obliged under Article 23 of the Basic Law to pass a national security law. Its attempts to do so in 2002 and 2003 sparked a protest with a reported 500,000 headcount, and the resignation of then-secretary for security Regina Ip. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa also stepped down in 2005, before the end of his term.

Regina Ip in 2003. Photo: GovHK.

The issue became a hot potato and successive administrations shelved it. But after the sometimes violent protests of 2019, Beijing in June 2020 inserted national security legislation directly into the Basic Law – bypassing the local legislature.

The legislation criminalises subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, but Article 7 still requires the Hong Kong government to pass its own law.

Lam said in June that while her administration would not be able to complete the legislative process within the remaining year of her tenure, she would use the time to complete preparatory work.

Photo: GovHK.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang said in an interview with Oriental Daily he expects to legislate Article 23 within the next term of the Legislative Council.

The intent of Article 23 is to “to prohibit by law acts that would undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and national security of our country.”

“The HKSAR is constitutionally obliged under Article 23 to ‘enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organisations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies’,” the document reads.

The planned law has attracted criticism from legal experts for a lack of clarity in specifying what acts are criminal, and whether they must be intentional.

“Looking at the proposed legislation, you will not be able to find out precisely what would get you into trouble, and what would not,” said Margaret Ng in an interview with HKFP in 2018.

“There are vague definitions of subversion, sedition, treason – all these traditional things which would greatly put you in danger of the law.”

Anti-sanctions law

China’s legislature passed an anti-sanctions law in June, allowing Beijing to deny visas, deport, or seize assets of those who formulate or comply with sanctions against Chinese businesses or officials.

The Central district in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Beijing planned to extend the legislation to Hong Kong, by inserting it into Annex III of the Basic Law, meaning that it must be passed through promulgation or local legislation.

But the prospect alarmed Hong Kong’s foreign firms who fear they will be caught in a tussle between Washington and Beijing – forced to observe US sanctions but penalised by Beijing if they do so.

“If the law is to be taken seriously, it could be a huge problem if banks in Hong Kong have to enforce US sanctions, and then face prosecution in Hong Kong for enforcing those sanctions,” Julian Ku, an expert in international law at Hofstra University, told AFP in August.

Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote in a blogpost in August that the SAR government “has a constitutional responsibility” to enact the law, which could “restore normal order in the market.”

“No matter {whether] it is breaking the long arm of foreign countries’ so-called sanctions, or executing our retaliation, both are for restoring order in the market, and protecting the development benefits of corporations operating normally,” wrote Chan.

But amid the furore Beijing’s legislature has postponed a vote on including the anti-sanctions law in Annex III of the Basic Law.

Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.