Hong Kong grappling with future under national security law

A year ago, Hong Kong residents felt secure enough in their freedom under the one-country, two-systems regime to bring their children to mass protests. But the new security law has changed it

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter


Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam offered scant reassurance Tuesday over a new national security law that critics say undermines liberties and legal protections promised when China took control of the former British colony.

A year ago, Hong Kong residents felt secure enough in their freedoms under the territory's one-country, two-systems regime to bring their children to mass protests.

Now, after the June 30 implementation of the security law, some are worrying they might be punished for what they post in their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

The legal system left in place when the British left Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, allowed the city's 7 million residents a free press and other freedoms forbidden in the communist-ruled mainland, for at least 50 years.

Many of Hong Kong's older generations fled political upheaval on the Chinese mainland. Younger Hong Kongers grew up expecting to achieve more democracy in their lifetimes.

All are struggling to understand the implications of the new law, which prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in the city's internal affairs.

I didn't have a strong view against formalizing a national security law but the way it was implemented is intrusive and disrespectful, said Jen Au, who works in the banking industry. It's basically just bullying. Hong Kong has come a long way in the last 20 years to warm up to China and this really just backfired.

Lam, the city's Beijing-backed chief executive, said Tuesday the work of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security she chairs, which oversees enforcement of the law, will not be made public. So implementation rules giving police sweeping powers to enforce it won't be subject to judicial review.

Asked if she could guarantee that media can still report freely in Hong Kong without facing censorship, Lam said, If the Foreign Correspondents Club or all reporters in Hong Kong can give me a 100 per cent guarantee that they will not commit any offences under this national legislation, then I can do the same.

Hong Kong was convulsed with massive, sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations for much of last year.

Initially, the protests were against extradition legislation, since withdrawn, that might have led to some suspects facing trial in mainland Chinese courts. But they expanded to encompass calls for greater democracy and more police accountability.

Critics see the security law as Beijing's boldest move yet to erase the divide between Hong Kong's western-style system and the mainland's authoritarian way of governing.

The new law criminalises some pro-democracy slogans like the widely used Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time, which the Hong Kong government says has separatist connotations.

Under the new law police can order social media platforms, publishers and internet service providers to remove any electronic message published that is likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offence endangering national security. Service providers failing to comply could face fines of up to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ( 12,903) and jail terms of up to six months.

Individuals who post such messages may also be asked to remove the message, or face similar fines and a jail term of one year.

Under the new law, the Hong Kong chief executive can authorise police to intercept communications and conduct surveillance to prevent and detect offences endangering national security.

Police can conduct searches for evidence without a warrant in exceptional circumstances and seek warrants requiring people suspected of violating the national security law to surrender their travel documents, preventing them from leaving Hong Kong.

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