In Hong Kong, a law will be applied that most residents have never seen. And that already has an effect

In Hong Kong, a law will be applied that most residents have never seen. And that already has an effect

According to Communist Party-controlled media reports, the law is expected to criminalize acts such as secession, subversion against the central Chinese government, terrorism and quarrels with foreign powers. But hours after the report, the details remain unclear, encompassing a particularly opaque process that analysts and activists have speculated about.

Speaking at Sunday’s news conference on Tuesday morning, Mayor Carrie Lam initially declined to answer questions from the law, saying it was “inappropriate for me to comment”. Hours later, she defended this in a video speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying she would restore stability and prosperity to Hong Kong.

Its administration appears to have been almost completely thrown out of the process – but that did not stop them from predicting that the law would affect only a small minority of individuals in the city and would not harm political freedoms and judicial autonomy.

In a statement last week, Lam said the legislation would be “in line with the rule of law” and “the rights and freedoms applicable in Hong Kong”.

Some, however, do not take the risk. Several persistent political parties had already been disbanded by Tuesday afternoon, and members feared persecution for new crimes of subversion or secession, which are widely used in China to suppress anti-government disagreements.

Chilling effect

Prominent activist Joshua Wong announced shortly after the departure law report that he was leaving Demosisto, a political party he founded in 2016, but would continue to run the campaign on his own. Other leading figures in the party, including former MP Nathan Lawa and activist Agnes Chow, soon followed suit, and what was eventually left of the party leadership decided to stop working.
Chow was banned from running in the 2018 elections due to membership in the Demosist, who previously demanded that the Hong Kongers be allowed to decide for themselves about their future, including a vote on a potential departure from China.

Such a conversation could be illegal under the new law, if it follows the model of similar legislation in China as expected. Wong, Law and Chow have also been heavily involved in lobbying the international community for pressure on Beijing over Hong Kong, which many expect to be classified as “conflicts with foreign powers”.

Two other political parties, Hong Kong’s National Front and Studentlocalism, have also said they will stop working in the city, although both groups – which fence the independence parties – have said they will continue to work abroad.

Some independence figures are known to have left Hong Kong in recent months, fearing arrests in connection with last year’s often violent anti-government protests or an upcoming law. On Sunday, Wayne Chan, a congressman of Hong Kong’s independence allies, confirmed he had jumped bail and left the city. He faced charges related to the protests.

“After the adoption of the national security law, we can expect that a large group of political figures will be arrested and may be imprisoned immediately without bail.” Chan wrote on Facebook.
More subtle signs a cooling effect on Tuesday, there was also evidence as shops and businesses that had previously been highly conspicuous supporters of the city’s protest movement began removing slogans and images that could be considered illegal.

Legal limbo

While pro-government groups and politicians welcomed the passage of the law – former leader C.Y. Leung offered adultery for future prosecutions – there was great frustration among many Hong Kongers over the constant lack of detail and the feeling that he was almost in limbs, knowing that the law had been passed, but not what it meant.

In a letter to the city administration on Monday, Hong Kong Bar Association President Philip Dykes said the secrecy of the law was “truly extraordinary” and called on the government to clarify how minimum citizens ’rights would be guaranteed.

The Global Times, a nationalist Chinese state-run tabloid, said the law had already had its effect, indicating the resignation of Wong and others. Stanley Ng, the Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese National People’s Congress, seems to have supported this view, speaking in a Facebook video that was part of the reason for the secrecy surrounding the law was to allow for “intimidation and deterrence”.

Such uncertainty is likely to persist beyond Tuesday night, when the bill is finally expected to be published and published. No matter how the acts are described or the penalties are prescribed, many will watch as the police and prosecutors enforce them.

The key test will come on Wednesday, when Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of the city’s surrender to Chinese rule. The day traditionally takes place as an anti-government march through the city, but the protest is banned this year.

Organizers say they will move forward anyway. Yet how many people join them and for what offenses – if any – these people are thought to have committed if they do, remains to be seen.

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