Hong Kong’s security chief has said that rights and freedoms will be protected after the local Article 23 security law is enacted next year, echoing assurances previously given about the 2020 national security law.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang
Secretary for Security Chris Tang meeting the press on September 27, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Chris Tang said on Sunday that only a few who endanger national security will be affected, and Article 23 will otherwise have no impact on daily life, businesses or journalists’ work.

See also: How 3 years of the national security law transformed Hong Kong

Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against Beijing. Its legislation failed in 2003 following mass protests and it was not tabled again until after the onset of the separate, Beijing-imposed security law in 2020. Pro-democracy advocates fear it could have a negative effect on civil liberties.

“No matter whether it is the national security law, or the upcoming Article 23 legislation, we will definitely safeguard people’s freedom of speech in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or other international covenants,” Tang said in Cantonese on Commercial Radio according to RTHK.

national security law banner
A national security billboard. Photo: GovHK.

See also: Explainer: What is Article 23?

“Actually, countries around the world have their own national security legislation, so why always target Article 23 in Hong Kong? This is not fair because all societies have these kind of laws,” he said, adding that the legislation would not be applied retroactively.

Tang’s comments come five months after the justice minister Paul Lam claimed that the existing security law had not impacted free assembly, despite UN criticism.

See also: Five ways Hong Kong has changed under China’s security law

Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution in June 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, led to hundreds of convictions amid new legal precedents, whilst dozens of civil society groups disappeared. The authorities say it restored stability and peace to the city, rejecting criticism from trade partners, the UN and NGOs, despite an overall rise in crime.

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Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.