Hong Kong’s Security Law Takes Effect as China Unveils Sweeping Definitions

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday signed a presidential order to impose draconian security legislation on Hong Kong, with effect from 11.00 p.m. local time, an hour or so before the July 1 handover anniversary.

The full text of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which bans a vaguely defined and all-encompassing slew of actions including many seen during last year’s pro-democracy protests and anti-extradition movement, was published in Chinese only in the Hong Kong government gazette and signed by its leader Carrie Lam. State-run Xinhua News Agency later published an English translation it said was “for reference only.”

Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) likened the national security law to a “sharp sword” hanging over the heads of anybody “endangering national security.”

However, the law also targets anybody in the world committing actions within its scope, regardless of whether they live in Hong Kong or are its permanent residents.

Many of the actions and activities barred in regulations could include those taken by protesters last year in the face of widespread police violence meted out even to peaceful mass marches.

Trials underneath the law could be held in secret if “state secrets” are deemed to be involved. The mainland Chinese authorities have typically employed a highly elastic definition of what is really a state secret, and national security charges are frequently leveled at rights activists, authors and academics and human rights solicitors for something they posted online.

Anyone suspected of “crimes” underneath the law may be issued with a travel ban, their passport confiscated and their assets frozen.

Businesses, groups and other legal entities suspected of breaching the law may be power down or have their licenses to operate revoked, echoing a procedure used by authorities in mainland China to revoke human rights lawyers’ license to use as a company.

The law may also be used to require media or on line service providers to remove copy deemed to harm national security, also to reveal details of its source.

Anyone “causing residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to possess misgivings concerning the Central People’s Government through various unlawful means,” will also be pursued under the law, a provision that also could potentially be utilized to target the media and anyone commenting on social media marketing.

Judges in national security trials could be appointed by Lam. Cases will be heard by three judges.

Pro-China supporters display Chinese and Hong Kong flags as they raise a toast with champagne within a rally close to the government headquarters in Hong Kong, as China passed a sweeping national security law for the city, June 30, 2020.
Credit: AFP

‘Foreign forces’

Any activity that’s deemed to possess used “force or the threat of force” to advocate independence for Hong Kong would be included in the law, as would any educational funding, help or other donations to this type of cause.

Anyone using or preparing explosive devices such as the Molotov cocktails in widespread use by frontline protesters fighting right back against riot police would fall within the law’s remit.

Potential targets may also include anybody advocating independence or self-sufficiency for Hong Kong, and anyone promoting, donating to, or helping such groups in any way.

The law also targets those “seriously interfering with, obstructing or sabotaging the Central Authorities of the People’s Republic of China or the performance of functions by the organs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which could mean obstructing nearly every form of official business.

A clause about “attacking, damaging or destroying [government] places and facilities” would encompass anyone vandalizing government property, which also occurred all through last year’s protests, as well as anyone funding or helping anyone to do these things.

Anyone vandalizing the MTR or ticket machines, anyone using fire hydrants, or interfering with a CCTV camera, all of which became regular options that come with protests, may also fall into the law’s net, as could anybody helping, funding or donating to people doing such things.

People offering lifts to protesters or assisting them in other ways could also be targeted.

The articles on “collusion with foreign forces” refer to anyone seen to be dealing with overseas companies or individuals, not just to obtain state secrets, but in addition to “obstruct” Hong Kong government law or policy.

Anyone colluding with foreign powers to impose sanctions on Hong Kong will also be targeted, that was a key plank of the pro-democracy movement’s strategy, culminating in the passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the U.S. in November 2019.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.