China passed a controversial security law, giving it new powers over Hong Kong, deepening fears for the city’s freedoms, the BBC learns.
Last month, China surprised the city by saying it would criminalize any act of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.
The move came after furious protests last year – sparked by another law – that has become a pro-democracy movement.
Critics say this new law poses an even greater threat to Hong Kong’s identity.
They warn that this will undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence and destroy the city’s unique freedoms not seen in mainland China.
A bill was not released before it was released, which means that people in the city will not have seen details of the measures they now need to comply with.
Hong Kong was returned to China under British control in 1997, but under a special agreement that guaranteed certain rights for 50 years.
Therefore, the law has drawn harsh international condemnations and has also sparked protests in Hong Kong since it was announced by Beijing in May.
China says the law is necessary to combat unrest and instability in the city and rejects criticism as interference in its business.
What does the new law do?
China has not officially confirmed that the law has been passed, but the BBC was informed that it was passed unanimously at a session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
It is expected to be added to Hong Kong’s statute books later in the day and the day before the 23rd anniversary of Britain’s transfer to China – a date often marked by pro-democracy protests.
It would make any act of secession, subversion of the central government, terrorism and collusion with foreign or foreign forces criminal.
A new office in Hong Kong would deal with national security cases, but it would also have other powers, such as overseeing national security education in Hong Kong schools.
In addition, the city will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a consultant appointed by Beijing.
The Hong Kong chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, a move that has raised fears about judicial independence.
It is important to note that Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted. If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, Beijing law will take precedence.
How will this change Hong Kong?
For many, the very nature of the law undermines the freedoms that set Hong Kong apart from the rest of China – and helped define the city’s character.
People in Hong Kong valued civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, the right to protest and a fully independent and robust judiciary.
Critics say, in fact, that law could silence dissent and will extend the Chinese Communist Party’s influence over various aspects of Hong Kong’s life.
Hong Kong’s executive director, Carrie Lam, had previously dismissed these fears, saying it was a “responsible” measure to protect the law-abiding majority.
She said Hong Kong’s freedoms, vitality and fundamental values will be preserved.
‘A tool to suppress political unrest’
Hong Kong’s new security law is a frighteningly open tool for suppressing political unrest.
Like similar laws on the Chinese mainland, it appears that it can be manipulated to meet the needs of the Communist Party, as needed, to crush almost any action deemed threatening.
Unlike other parts of China, Hong Kong has an independent judiciary. For this reason, the Party leadership would not leave the interpretation of this law in the hands of any former judge.
No. Those who will be allowed to preside over these matters will be handpicked by Carrie Lam, the leader of the city that was actually installed by Beijing.
Like this. before the new security law, what actions by activists – no matter how subversive – could not be addressed under existing laws? What did “extremists” do to justify this new legislation?
Bomb manufacturing? No. Smashing buildings? No. Meeting with international NGOs to talk about the deterioration of the city’s freedoms? Ahhhh. Possibly. Publicly defending Hong Kong’s independence? Almost certainly.
The more Beijing, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, tries to control Hong Kong, the more it takes residents to the pro-democracy camp.
But he is playing a long game – and whatever the promises made at the time of delivery, it would not remain under his control. Enter the security law.
What was the reaction?
One of the most important activists in the city, Joshua Wong, said on Tuesday that he would leave the pro-democracy group Demosisto that he has led so far.
Amnesty International, a human rights group, describes the law as “the greatest threat to human rights in the city’s recent history”.
On Tuesday, Taiwan even warned its citizens of risks when visiting Hong Kong.
But there was much international criticism even before the law was passed.
Washington threatened to end Hong Kong’s special status trade relationship, while the European Parliament voted to take China to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if the law were imposed.
The United Kingdom said it would change its immigration rules and offer millions of people in Hong Kong “a path to citizenship” if China went ahead with the legislation.
Why is China enforcing the law?
Hong Kong was handed over to China from Britain in 1997, under the “one country, two systems” principle and with a mini-constitution called the Basic Law. It allowed freedom of assembly and expression, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights seen nowhere else in mainland China.
Hong Kong was also expected to enact its own national security law, but its unpopularity meant that it had never been done.
In recent years, Hong Kong has repeatedly seen waves of protests against Beijing’s influence and demanding more rights.
Then, in 2019, protests against an extradition law became violent and evolved into a broad anti-China and pro-democracy movement.