The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on Tuesday passed a new national security law (English) dramatically restricting freedom and autonomy within the region. The law remained unpublished until only an hour before it went into effect on Wednesday, and several arrests under the new regulations have already been made.
Generally, the law criminalizes four categories of activity: secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and collusion with foreign entities, with violators able to receive up to life in prison. Beijing has claimed that the law is crucial to safeguarding Hong Kong’s economic health and political stability, while many legal experts and Hong Kong civil society leaders say, “the measure ends once and for all any remaining autonomy the region enjoys under Chinese rule.”
The law allows terrorism charges to be brought against those “dangerous activities which seriously jeopardize public health, safety or security,” significantly broadening the scope of such charges. It will also permit Hong Kong to deploy mainland Chinese investigators to the region with no requirement for warrants and to remove suspects to the mainland where they will have trials that can be held in total secrecy, without a jury, and under the mainland Chinese Criminal law. The law also criminalizes cooperating with foreign powers against mainland China. This extends beyond the borders of the region to anyone who calls for sanctions against China or even provokes “by unlawful means hatred among Hong Kong residents towards,” the Chinese Government.
Conspicuously, the legislature chose to enact the law on July 1. The date is sacred to Hong Kong and often is marked by demonstrations across the region. The day is the anniversary of the lease to Britain, the birth of the Chinese Communist Party, the transition of Hong Kong from Britain to China, and the break-in to the city’s legislature by pro-democracy activists. On the first day the law was enacted, many chose to continue to participate in planned demonstrations, with at least 11 people being arrested under the new legislation and more than 360 more detained for participating in illegal demonstrations. The law has prompted several organized opposition parties within the country to announce their formal dissolution as the new restrictions make it ostensibly illegal to have organized groups dissenting publically against the government.
The law has sparked strong international condemnation, with many suggesting that it marks the end of an autonomous Hong Kong region. The UK has offered a path to citizenship for Hong Kong residents and accused the Chinese government of committing a “clear and serious” violation of the 1984 Joint Declaration between China and Britain. The EU has announced a joint resolution calling for the defense of Hong Kong autonomy and suggesting the International Court of Justice should investigate. Finally, the US has engaged in a series of trade restrictions between the two countries and denounced the law as a “decision to eviscerate Hong Kong’s freedoms has forced the Trump Administration to re-evaluate its policies toward the territory.