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Protests held as new security law takes effect in Hong Kong

01 July 2020

By The SUN

Water is sprayed at anti-security law protesters in Causeway Bay this afternoon (RTHK photo)

A new security law that forbids, among other things, any call for independence or secession from China took effect in Hong Kong just in time for today’s 23rd anniversary of the Special Administrative Region’s handover from Britain.

Protesters marched in defiance of the new and harsher law this afternoon, with more than a thousand gathering at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. Some tried to make their way to the Central Government Offices in Admiralty but were stopped in Wanchai by police who used pepper balls.

Latest reports say at least 140 people have been arrested, some in line with the new law, which prescribes a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for anyone in Hong Kong who is found guilty of the worst cases of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Earlier, Hong Kong government officials led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam and three former incumbents, attended the traditional early-morning flag ceremony at Bauhinia Square just outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai.

Speaking afterwards, Lam said the passing of the national security law was a historic step forward in terms of Beijing and Hong Kong’s relationship, adding that it is a “necessary and timely” move to restore stability.

She described the new law as “constitutional, lawful, sensible and reasonable.”
Flag raising to mark the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China
Outside the venue, about a dozen members of the League of Social Democrats staged a rally, chanting slogans calling for the “end of one party rule” and the scrapping of the “evil security law”, and demanding the release of human rights activists detained on the mainland.

The law formally took effect in Hong Kong at 11pm last night after being signed by Lam.
Only two hours earlier, the legislation was approved unanimously by members of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, then was inserted into Annex III of the Basic Law of the Special Administrative Region.

It was then promulgated through a presidential order by Xi Jinping, and finally gazetted by the Hong Kong government, initially only in Chinese.

The law prescribes 10 years to life in prison for offenders deemed to have taken part in more serious crimes, while those who had minor roles face shorter sentences or some restrictions, like being barred from holding public office.

An article in the law provides that the crime of subversion can include the act of attacking or destroying government facilities so that they are unable to function normally.
Terrorism, on the other hand, could include acts such as arson, or damaging public transport and utilities as a means to threaten the central or Hong Kong governments.

These acts were among those imputed on radical protesters who staged nearly daily mass actions against the government in the second half of last year. However, Lam and other officials have assured that the new law would not have retroactive effect, meaning, it will not include acts that were committed before it was enacted.
Thousands of protesters march toward Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to denounce new law
Also among those who could face the maximum penalty are people who lobby for sanctions against the governments of the SAR or the mainland, through the use of illegal means to “stir up hatred” against the authorities.

Likewise, those who organize, plan, implement or take part in secessionist activities face harsher penalties.

While local authorities are tasked with handling most national security cases, a mainland agency that has just been set up in Hong Kong can assume control when “complicated situations” arise because of foreign interference, when the local government is unable to enforce the law, and when there’s a serious threat to national security.

Suspects in such cases would then be tried in a mainland court, under mainland law, which prescribes death as the maximum sentence in serious offences, although it’s not clear if this penalty would apply to an offender in Hong Kong.

But even for cases heard in Hong Kong, the media and the public can be barred from attending the trial if national secrets or public order are involved, and the authority deems an open trial inappropriate.
Defiant protesters march towards Victoria Park in Causeway Bay (photo by J B)

The Secretary for Justice can also decide that certain cases involving national secrets or external forces should be heard by three judges in the High Court instead of a jury, whose safety could be put at risk, according to the law.

The Chief Executive, on the other hand, is given power to appoint local judges to preside over national security cases, but will be supervised by the central government.

Another provision specifies that staff of the new mainland agency are not under Hong Kong’s jurisdiction if they are investigating national security cases. This means even the agency’s vehicles cannot be searched by local law enforcers while carrying out their duties.

Authorities would also have the power to wiretap and put under surveillance those suspected of endangering national security.

In addition, anyone convicted of violating the new legislation would be barred from running or taking up any public office, or become a member of the Chief Executive Election Committee.

High-ranking civil servants, or those who have sworn allegiance to the SAR, including lawmakers, district councillors, government officials or public officers, Executive Council members, judges and members of the judiciary, will lose their positions immediately.

The new law will apply to everyone in Hong Kong, even non-permanent residents.

Critics of the new law, including the vice chairwoman of the Bar Association Anita Yip, have raised concerns about how its provisions will be interpreted, as there is no clear definition of the crimes covered.

Yip noted that the ultimate power of interpretation lies with the NPC’s Standing Committee, putting in serious doubt Hong Kong’s authority to interpret the law using prevailing common law practice.

She also pointed out that terms like “national security” are defined more broadly in China than in Hong Kong, and raised concern about the provision that outlaws provoking hatred among Hong Kong residents towards the central government through illegal means.

"What constitutes illegal means and what induces hatred, and, as I said hatred, how is it being established? Objective standards? Subjective standards? Ultimately I believe it is a matter of interpretation by the courts and it’s not a matter of who’s assuring you with this or that," Yip said.

But in an address earlier, CE Lam sought to allay concerns over the new law, saying it won't have any direct effects on the lives of Hong Kong people.

"It only targets an extremely small minority of offenders while the life and property as well as various legitimate basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of citizens will be protected", she said.
Hours before the expected passage of the security law, prominent pro-democracy campaigners like student leader Joshua Wong quit organizations identified with their advocacy, while Taiwan opened an office that offered sanctuary for those facing threat.

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