Hong Kong will not have a single National Security law, it will have two. The tough measure already in place since Beijing imposed it a year and a half ago – which has forced critical media outlets to shut down, has led to the arrest of leading opposition activists and politicians and to the arrest of Western governments and rights defenders accuse humans of restricting the local system of freedoms – will have a complementary rule in the new legislature. This new legal text will expand the number of behaviors considered criminal.
This was announced this Wednesday by the head of the autonomous government, Carrie Lam, in the inaugural session of that new legislature in the Legislative Council (Legco), the local parliament. A parliament in which, after the legislative elections in December, in which only “patriotic” candidates were allowed to participate, only one deputy out of 90 describes himself as independent. Neither line up on the Democratic side.
The atmosphere was very different from the bustle that had once dominated the Legco. Not only because of the notable absences of a score of legislators and several high-ranking officials, in quarantine after attending a controversial birthday party for a high-ranking Chinese official that became a source of COVID contagion. Or by the emblem of the People’s Republic that now presides over the chamber above the Hong Kong insignia. Without the Democratic opposition – who resigned en masse in November 2020 – and who drew on British tradition to vigorously protest the other side’s interventions, the session proceeded strictly according to schedule. No boos, no interruptions, and no one on Question Time questioning Lam much further than asking him for some precision.
On the bench previously held by opposition deputies, now those appointed by the pro-government Electoral Commission sat. The chief minister, visibly more relaxed than in other past appearances, promised to go more to Parliament for control sessions. And he reviewed what will be the legislative priorities of the year.
Among them will be the development of a local National Security law, which will complement the one imposed from Beijing in June 2020 and which will classify some 40 crimes. The processing of this rule is something that Lam had already been anticipating since last year.
The Basic Law of Hong Kong, the mini-constitution of the enclave, provides in its article 23 that the autonomous territory has its own National Security law. But a first attempt to pass it, in 2000, precipitated the worst mass protests that the former British colony had experienced until those of 2019 against Beijing. The autonomous government at the time chose to withdraw the bill to silence these demonstrations, without ever wanting to resume the measure.
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“The legislative process relating to article 23 is part of the constitutional obligations and cannot be delayed any longer,” Lam declared to the deputies, according to the agency France Presse.
The head of the autonomous government will conclude her first term in June and by then the Executive will have submitted the details of the new law to public consultation, he said. Some lawmakers hope to see the legislation passed by then, although Lam said that timeframe is too short.
The National Security Law drafted by Beijing was imposed to settle the 2019 protests in the bud and to cover that legal vacuum that no autonomous government had wanted to touch due to its high political cost. It punishes “subversion”, “secessionism”, “terrorism” and “treason”, crimes defined in a very vague way, with sentences that reach life imprisonment. Furthermore, it prohibits foreign organizations from carrying out political activities in the former British colony, and local organizations cannot maintain ties with other foreign political institutions.
Since its entry into force, the existing system of freedoms in Hong Kong, unique in the Chinese territory and considered for decades a model within Asia, has been increasingly limited. At least four opposition media have closed down: the newspaper Apple Daily, and digital Stand News ―His board of directors was arrested on December 29 on suspicion of “seditious activities” -, Citizen News Y Mad Dog Daily. Other media have suffered a constant trickle of exits in their newsrooms. Dozens of prominent opposition politicians and activists, from the young former student leader Joshua Wong to the veteran owner of the Apple DailyJimmy Lai, are in custody awaiting trial, charged with charges related to that law. Most of them, related to declarations on democracy. Others have left activism or gone into exile.
The new legislation may not be the only one. Lam had already indicated last year that his government was working on a measure to combat “false news”, which will punish “disinformation, hatred and lies”. In response to a question in the parliamentary session, the chief minister indicated that her government will study the controversial regulations that Singapore has already approved against disinformation and against possible foreign interference, as one of the references in the process to develop the new security standard. national.