The Chinese parliament passed national security legislation for Hong Kong on Tuesday, setting the stage for the most radical changes in the lifestyle of the former British colony since it returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago.
Details of the law – coming in response to last year’s often violent anti-democratic protests in the city and aimed at fighting subversion, terrorism, separatism and dealings with foreign powers – will be released later Tuesday.
Amid fears, the legislation will diminish the freedoms of the global financial hub and reports that the most severe punishment for him will be life imprisonment, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong of the Demosisto Group said she would be dismissed.
“It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,” Wong said on Twitter. The legislation pushes Beijing further during clashes with the United States, Britain and other Western governments, which say it violates the high degree of autonomy granted to the city on July 1, 1997, following the surrender.
The U.S., which is already in dispute with China over trade, the South China Sea and a new coronavirus, began removing Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law on Monday, halting defense exports and restricting access to technology.
China has said it will avenge it.
Speaking via a video link to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam called on the international community to “respect our country’s right to national security.”
She said the law, which is expected to take effect immediately, will not undermine the city’s autonomy or its independent judiciary. Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said that the legislation is aimed at a few “problematic people” and will not affect the rights and freedoms, nor the interests of investors.
The editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the Daily Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, announced on Twitter that the most severe punishment under the law was life imprisonment, without giving details. Details of the law will be announced later Tuesday, Henry Tang, a Hong Kong delegate to China’s top advisory body, said after a meeting at Beijing’s main office.
The legislation could get an early test with activists and pro-democracy politicians who say they would reject a police ban amid restrictions on the coronavirus at a rally on the July 1 handover anniversary. At last year’s demonstrations, which followed during the democratic protests, the crowd broke in and destroyed the city legislation.
“We will never accept the enactment of the law, even though it is so overwhelming,” Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said. It is unclear whether attending an unauthorized rally would be a national security offense if the law came into force by then.
A majority in Hong Kong opposes the law, a poll conducted for Reuters this month showed, but support for the protests fell to just a weak majority. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. Dozens of Beijing supporters jumped on corks of champagne and waved Chinese flags at a celebration in front of the government headquarters. “I’m very happy,” said an older man named Lee.
“This will leave anti-Chinese spies and the people who brought chaos to Hong Kong have nowhere to go.” This month, China’s official Chinese news agency Xinhua revealed some provisions of the law, including that it will replace existing Hong Kong legislation and that interpretation powers belong to the top committee of the Chinese parliament.
Beijing is expected to establish a national security office in Hong Kong for the first time and could also exercise jurisdiction in certain cases. Judges for security cases are expected to be appointed by the city’s executive director. Senior judges now distribute the lists through Hong Kong’s independent judiciary.
It is not known which specific activities will be made illegal, how precisely they are defined or what punishment they are executing. Britain, the European Union, Japan, Taiwan and others have also criticized the legislation. China responded with criticism, referring to “interference” in its internal affairs.