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Hong Kong hardens its repressive arsenal

Photo: Peter Parks AFP The flags of China and Hong Kong are reflected in a window of the Hong Kong Parliament.

France Media Agency in Hong Kong

March 19, 2024

  • Asia

Hong Kong's local parliament unanimously passed a new national security law on Tuesday that provides for life imprisonment for offenses such as treason and insurrection, drawing condemnations from several Western countries.

“Today is a historic moment for Hong Kong,” said the territory’s leader, John Lee.

The text, which will come into force on March 23, complements the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 after major pro-democracy protests held the previous year in Hong Kong.

The new law lists five categories of offense, in addition to those punishable by the 2020 text: treason, insurrection, espionage and theft of state secrets, sabotage endangering national security, sedition and “outside interference.”

Several Western countries as well as business communities and human rights defenders had expressed concern about a law that will further restrict freedoms in Hong Kong and had called on lawmakers to take more time to examine the impact.

But Hong Kong's Legislative Council, which does not include an opposition representative, debated the text in an expedited manner and its 89 members approved the law, called “Article 23”, at the 'unanimously.

On Tuesday, the United States said it was “alarmed by these broad” and “imprecise” measures, which will potentially “accelerate the shutdown of once-open Hong Kong society,” according to Vedant Patel, spokesperson for the Department of Defense. 'State.

“Deeply troubled” by the ambiguities of the text, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, warned that these vague provisions which “could lead to the criminalization of a wide range of conduct protected by international law.”

London denounced a text which “will further undermine rights and freedoms in the city” and “undermine Hong Kong’s implementation of its international obligations”.

The NGO Amnesty International called on “all those who can exercise influence in Hong Kong”, whether governments, businesses, the United Nations or the European Union, to “intensify pressure on territorial authorities so that they respect human rights.”

The National Security Bureau of Hong Kong, managed by Beijing, for its part assured that an “extremely small number of people” risked being sentenced under this article 23.

Nearly 300 people have so far been arrested in Hong Kong under the 2020 law, and dozens of politicians, activists and other public figures have been jailed or forced to exile.

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“Hostile Forces”

According to Mr. Lee, this new legislation was necessary to fill the gaps left by the 2020 law.

He also cited Hong Kong's “constitutional responsibility” to pass this law, as he says is required by the Basic Law, the mini-Constitution that has governed the island since its handover by Great Britain. Brittany to China in 1997.

The law will “enable Hong Kong to effectively prevent, prohibit and punish espionage activities, plots and traps by foreign intelligence services, infiltration and sabotage by hostile forces.” , Mr. Lee said on Tuesday.

It will also “effectively prevent violence […] and color revolutions,” he said, referring to the pro-democracy protests that began in 2019.

The text provides for penalties of up to life in prison for sabotage endangering national security, treason and insurrection, 20 years for espionage and sabotage and 14 years for “external interference “.

The law also expands the definition of the crime of “sedition” to include inciting hatred against Chinese communist leaders, with an increased penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment.

During the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was guaranteed certain freedoms, as well as judicial and legislative autonomy, for 50 years under an agreement called “One Country, Two Systems”.

This agreement helped strengthen the city's status as a global financial center thanks to a reliable judicial system and more extensive political freedoms than in mainland China.

The new text puts an end to a large part of the legal guarantees enjoyed by Hong Kong, in order to align with mainland Chinese legislation.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116