Hong Kong demonstrates its “red” credentials by passing security law

Mar 26, 2024 07:09 IST

Hong Kong, March 26 (ANI): It has long been a cherished ambition of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chairman Xi Jinping – but not of the vast majority of Hong Kong people – to enact security regulations that outlaw dissent against the governing regime.
That aim became a reality on March 19 when the Legislative Council unanimously passed Article 23 into its mini-constitution that is known as the Basic Law.
Indeed, so eager was the CCP to pass Article 23, that Chinese state-owned broadcaster CCTV reported the results on its social media accounts even before the Legislative Council (LegCo) voted the “Safeguarding National Security Law” into being! CCTV broadcast the results 20 minutes before the 89 members of the council, who are all “patriots” to Beijing, started voting 89-0 in favour of the law.
This illustrates how Hong Kong’s political leaders are now a little different to China’s “rubber stamp” parliament known as the National People’s Congress. The rare meeting was convened off-schedule, and it was rushed through with lightning speed.
One after the other, members stood in the council chamber – which protestors had once stormed back in 2019 – to praise the virtues of Article 23.
The sycophantic council rushed the legislation through, perhaps chillingly recalling that the prospect of introduction of this toxic law had drawn 500,000 protesters onto the city’s streets back in 2003, and it had also been a catalyst in the protests from 2014-19.
This time, the legislation passed Article 23 in just eleven days. It might have been a show of democracy in name, but this passage of this law was anything but.
Politicians rushed to outdo each other. LegCo President Andrew Leung broke with convention by also casting a vote.
He explained, “As the president of the Legislative Council, I would not vote in usual circumstances. However, legislation of Article 23 is not just any other piece of legislation – it relates to national security in Hong Kong, it is of the utmost importance, so at this historical moment I will vote in favor of the bill.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee declared, “Today is a historical moment in Hong Kong, a historical moment we have waited 26 years, eight months and 19 days for… Today, Hong Kong finally completed its constitutional duty of legislating Article 23 of the Basic Law. We live up to the expectations of the central government and our country. We no longer need to worry that destructive forces would burn Hong Kong to the ground, destroying public facilities, throwing petrol bombs, setting fires, beating up residents with different views, push Hong Kong to the brink, destroy Hong Kong’s development that was years in the making.”
Article 23 promises prison sentences up to life for crimes such as treason, insurrection and sabotage, but legislators said it was necessary to “ensure the safety of life and property”.
It came into force on March 23. The law covers five areas: treason; insurrection and incitement to mutiny; theft of state secret and espionage; sabotage; and external interference.
The latter can be ambiguously construed as foreign governments, political parties, international
organizations or their personnel.
Article 23 lists offences such as publicly manifesting an intention to commit treason, which is punishable with 14 years’ imprisonment.
Alarmingly, failing to disclose the commission of treason by another is worthy of precisely the same prison sentence, which will surely encourage the use of a hotline to anonymously dob in others.
Already, an atmosphere of fear is clouding Hong Kong society, as citizens no longer know who to trust and who might be an informant.
Sabotage that damages or weakens public infrastructure is worth 20 years in prison, rising to life if it involves “colluding with an external force”.
Furthermore, the unlawful acquisition, possession or disclosure of state secrets merits anything from three to ten years in prison. “Espionage” would garner a sentence lasting up till 20
Police can extend pre-charge detention for suspects for up to 16 days, and also restrict their access to lawyers. Trials are conducted behind closed doors.
The government hailed a 97 per cent support rate from submissions received during a one-month consultation period before the law was passed. However, such a figure is meaningless, since most opponents had already been cowed into silence, submission or exile by the National Security Law introduced on June 30, 2020.
The council chamber was once the scene of vigorous debate and regular protest, but all that is now “historic”.
Hong Kong people have no avenue left to express their displeasure with the government and its policies that align so closely with its political master.
Hong Kong is now deeply coloured by China’s looming red shadow.
How do locals feel? One Hong Kong-born citizen, who talked to ANI on the condition of anonymity, said, “Scared! You have to triple-check what you say if you’re going to say something. This law is not protecting people nor giving them freedom of speech, but it’s to secure the power of the authorities.” Indeed, lamenting the whole situation, the person added, “The people who have privilege will be very happy because they will now have that privilege forever.”
The source also told ANI, “The law is a kind of electric shock collar to put on all the necks of Hong Kong people wherever they are. I’m afraid to talk to international people. I’m afraid to talk to the media. I’m afraid to express myself freely. I’m afraid I need to be dishonest in the future by agreeing with the lies of these people.”

Tom Grundy, Editor-in-Chief of Hong Kong Free Press, an English-language news outlet in Hong Kong, tweeted shortly before the vote: “For two decades, Article 23 security legislation was too toxic for any administration to touch again. Now, with most opposition figures and pro-democracy lawmakers in self-exile or behind bars, it’s about to pass the ‘patriots only’ parliament.”
The Hong Kong Bar Association said the law could have “a chilling effect on lawful conduct”, while the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned that definitions of state secrets are so broad that it might impede upon legitimate reporting.
Criticism from the international community has been widespread too. UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the law would “further damage rights and freedoms” and “entrench a culture of self-censorship”.
Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British governor, described the legislation as “another large nail in the coffin of human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong, and a further disgraceful breach of the Joint Declaration”.
The USA said it was “alarmed”. Volker Turk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement, “It is alarming that such consequential legislation was rushed through the legislature through an accelerated process, in spite of serious concerns raised about the incompatibility of many of its provisions with international human rights law.”
He called the rushed adoption “a regressive step for the protection of human rights”.
Turk added, “This ambiguity is deeply troubling, given its potential misuse and arbitrary application, including to target dissenting voices, journalists, researchers, civil society actors and human rights defenders.”
He continued, “As we have already seen, such provisions readily lead to self-censorship and chilling of legitimate speech and conduct, in respect of matters of public interest on which open debate is vital.”
The wording and definitions in the law do not make much difference either. China, and Hong Kong now, can stretch and expand definitions to target anyone they like.
There is a Chinese cliche, “If you are determined to convict, you needn’t worry about the lack of grounds.”
Hong Kong is run by “patriotic” Sinophiles, laws are enforced by a police force with carte blanche to do as it likes, and the courts and judges in national security cases are appointed by the government.
As in the Chinese legal system, convictions are pretty much a foregone conclusion. Free expression was already totally suffocated by the National Security Law enacted in 2020.
That earlier law authorized the establishment of the Office for Safeguarding National Security, a Mainland China body staffed by personnel from there. It has the authority to take over cases and remove suspects to China to be tried under the Chinese system.
The law states that all individuals must obey whatever this office decrees and its members are literally untouchable.
The law states, for instance, “The acts performed in the course of duty by the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and its staff in accordance with this Law shall not be subject to the jurisdiction of the HKSAR.”
For example, its members are not subject to inspection, search or detention by Hong Kong law enforcement.
As Donald Clarke, in a blog entitled Hong Kong’s National Security Law: A first look”, stated in 2020, “In other words, they are untouchable under Hong Kong law.
This is real Gestapo-level stuff. And here’s the kicker: it would seem they are untouchable under mainland law as well. Suppose one such officer commits a deliberate homicide “in the course of duty”.
Not liable under Hong Kong law. Well, what about the Criminal Law of the PRC? Unfortunately, the only PRC laws applicable in Hong Kong are those listed in Annex III to the Basic Law, and the
Criminal Law is not listed there. Incredible! It seems that officials of the Office for Safeguarding National Security can move around Hong Kong in their own little lawless bubble.”
More than 260 have been arrested under that law. There are fears that Article 23 will also be used to target Hong Kongers overseas, and their families and friends at home.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s leader appointed by Beijing, praised Xi’s holistic view of national security, which covers everything from politics to society to securing China’s economic, technological and cyber development, as well as its overseas interests.
In other words, national security is anything that Xi – and now Hong Kong – wants it to be. There will surely be mission creep when the law is implemented in the courts.
This mass securitization is bound to affect international companies and media outlets too, as the distinction between politics and business becomes increasingly blurry.
There are no individual or private-sector rights, for everything is subordinated to the grand task of glorifying and protecting the edifice of the CCP under the notion of “national security”.
The anonymous source told ANI, “Most Hong Kong people feel uncomfortable with the law being passed so fast, and it is destroying Hong Kong’s foundations as an international city and shaking its reputation as a financial center.”
What, then, can they do? “For the next generation, they must do the same as what people in China have done for so many years – leave, go overseas.” Beijing does not care, as it vigorously shouted down all criticisms.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian told a press conference in Beijing, “All attacks and smears will never succeed and are doomed to fail.” (ANI)


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