Explainer: Hong Kong’s national security crackdown – month 46

In the 46th month since Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, the city held a raft of events to mark National Security Education Day. China’s top man on Hong Kong affairs urged it to prioritise economic development after the passage of a second security law.

A carnival featuring booths about national security and showcasing police’s armoured vehicles at Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, on April 15, 2024 as part of the activities of National Security Education Day. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

City officials continued to defend the homegrown security law – known locally as Article 23 – saying it did not damage the city’s rule of law and press freedom. They rebutted criticism from the US and European Union as “smears” and “hypocrisy with double standards.”

The national security trial of pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai heard evidence from the fifth prosecution witness, paralegal Chan Tsz-wah. The verdict in the case against former editors of Stand News was delayed – for the third time – to August while the trial of Hong Kong’s now-disbanded Tiananmen vigil group will not begin this year. It has been more than two years since the vigil group was charged.

National Security Education Day

All 18 districts of the city held various events, including exhibitions, seminars, and drama performances, on National Security Education Day on April 15.

Speaking via a video link from Beijing, Xia Baolong, the director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said the city could “go all out on economic development” after the Article 23 legislation put an end to political disputes and unrest.

Xia Baolong, the director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, speaks at the opening ceremony for the National Security Education Day via a video speech on April 15, 2024. Photo: GovHK.Xia Baolong, the director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, speaks at the opening ceremony for the National Security Education Day via a video speech on April 15, 2024. Photo: GovHK.
Xia Baolong, the director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, speaks at the opening ceremony for the National Security Education Day via a video speech on April 15, 2024. Photo: GovHK.

“The prosperity of Hong Kong cannot be disparaged by a few articles or badmouthing… Hong Kong is destined for a bright future,” Xia said.

Xia also described the law as “a sword hanging over the heads of the extremely small fraction of people endangering national security,” and “a guardian angel for the freedom, assets, and investments of the majority” of city residents and foreign investors.

See also: In Pictures: Hong Kong marks National Security Education Day with colourful carnival and seminars

At Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, parents took their children to see police armoured vehicles on display in a carnival while performers sang classic pop tunes next to educational booths about China’s national security.

A carnival featuring booths about national security and showcasing police's armoured vehicles at Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, on April 15, 2024 as part of the activities of National Security Education Day. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.A carnival featuring booths about national security and showcasing police's armoured vehicles at Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, on April 15, 2024 as part of the activities of National Security Education Day. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
A carnival featuring booths about national security and showcasing police’s armoured vehicles at Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, on April 15, 2024 as part of the activities of National Security Education Day. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Hong Kong’s efforts to safeguard national security were “good, very good,” volunteer Chan Kwai-lan told HKFP in Cantonese. “At least everyone is living in peace and working happily, and the economy is better than before,” she said.

A drama performance, presented by the care team of Yau Tsim Mok district, is held at Henry G. Leong Yaumatei Community Centre on April 15, 2024, as part of the activities of National Security Education Day.A drama performance, presented by the care team of Yau Tsim Mok district, is held at Henry G. Leong Yaumatei Community Centre on April 15, 2024, as part of the activities of National Security Education Day.
A drama performance, presented by the care team of Yau Tsim Mong district, is held at Henry G. Leong Yaumatei Community Centre on April 15, 2024, as part of the activities of National Security Education Day. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“Your media should promote positivity to young people… we are from the same nation after all, if they are discontented about anything, they should make changes in lawful ways,” the insurance worker in her 40s urged a HKFP reporter.

Western criticism ‘smears,’ ‘hypocrisy’

The Hong Kong government rejected criticism by the European Union of Article 23 as “hypocrisy” after the European Parliament said the law infringed basic freedoms and liberties.

The parliament adopted a resolution on April 25, condemning the Article 23 legislation for “erasing the last vestiges of fundamental freedoms in [Hong Kong].” It called for sanctions against Chief Executive John Lee and urged member states to suspend extradition arrangement with China and the city.

Chief Executive John Lee addresses lawmakers in the Legislative Council Chamber after a unanimous vote in favour of passing new security legislation on March 19, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.Chief Executive John Lee addresses lawmakers in the Legislative Council Chamber after a unanimous vote in favour of passing new security legislation on March 19, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Chief Executive John Lee addresses lawmakers in the Legislative Council Chamber after a unanimous vote in favour of passing new security legislation on March 19, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

In response, the Hong Kong government denounced the EU body as demonstrating “typical political hegemony and hypocrisy with double standards,” saying that safeguarding national security was an inherent right of all sovereign nations.

It added that normal business and law-abiding individuals from the EU would not be affected.

Separately, the government also hit back at a US report saying there was evidence of arbitrary arrest and detention in Hong Kong under the Beijing-imposed security law.

The US Department of State released an annual human rights report on April 22, citing the Hong Kong police arrest warrants for 13 self-exiled democracy activists and the sedition conviction of a woman studying in Japan as evidence of “transnational repression.”

The Hong Kong government said the report was “unfounded and biased,” adding that the arrest warrants were “legitimate, necessary, and squarely in line with international practice.”

No ‘fake news’ law

On April 23, Chief Executive John Lee said Hong Kong would not legislate against “fake news” as long as the media industry exercises self-discipline.

press freedom reporters journalistspress freedom reporters journalists
Reporters at a government press conference in Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“My attitude is that if we can handle this issue through self-discipline and professionalism, that would be the top priority. We should work hard together and there would be no need for legislation,” Lee said.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it “cautiously welcomed” Lee’s comments.

On April 29, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam wrote on Ming Pao that criticism of the government was allowed “no matter how sharp or severe.”

Secretary for Justice Paul Lam attends a meeting on March 19, 2024 as the Legislative Council resumes the debate on a proposed domestic security law required under Article 23 of the Basic Law.Secretary for Justice Paul Lam attends a meeting on March 19, 2024 as the Legislative Council resumes the debate on a proposed domestic security law required under Article 23 of the Basic Law.
Secretary for Justice Paul Lam attends a meeting on March 19, 2024 as the Legislative Council resumes the debate on a proposed domestic security law required under Article 23 of the Basic Law. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lam added that the Article 23 legislation would not affect press freedom: “As long as the media industry adheres to the professional principles of truth-seeking, fairness, objectivity, impartiality and being comprehensive… there is no need to be especially worried about breaching the law.”

Jimmy Lai trial

Paralegal Chan Tsz-wah and activists Andy Li, both defendants turned prosecution witnesses, testified in the national security trial of Jimmy Lai.

Detained Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.Detained Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.
Detained Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.

The 76-year-old Apple Daily founder has pleaded not guilty to two conspiracy charges of colluding with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed security law and one count of conspiring to publish seditious materials.

Chan and Li agreed to testify after earlier pleading guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces. Prosecutors allege Lai used Chan as a middleman to relay his instruction to Li in a scheme to request foreign sanctions against Hong Kong and China.

Continuing his testimony from March, Li said on April 9 that the enactment of Beijing’s security law in June 2020 prompted activists to consider setting up a “government-in-exile” to further an international lobbying campaign.

But Li said on April 10 he never spoke to or met the mogul and could not direct the “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” (SWHK) advocacy group, allegedly instructed by Lai to carry out the conspiracy.

Chan Tsz-wahChan Tsz-wah
Chan Tsz-wah speaking at a Legislative Council panel meeting in 2016. Photo: Legislative Council live feed.

Testifying on April 24, Chan said Lai’s arrest under the security law in August 2020 dealt “a heavy blow” to the pro-democracy movement as the mogul had connected activists with politicians in the US.

Chan also admitted on April 26 that he had lied to the police about his connections with SWHK after his arrest in October 2020.

Tiananmen and Stand News case court delays

The verdict in the sedition trial of Stand News and two of its former chief editors has been further delayed to the end of August, marking the third postponement since the trial began in October 2022.

A judge has also said that the national security trial of three former leaders of Hong Kong’s now-disbanded Tiananmen vigil group will not begin this year, more than two years since the group was charged.

‘Moved and inspired’ by mainland trip

More than 70 teachers and students returned to Hong Kong in early-April after spending a week in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou on the government’s first national security education study tour.

The National Security Education Study Tour organised by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government concluded and returned to Hong Kong on April 4, 2024. Photo: GovHK.The National Security Education Study Tour organised by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government concluded and returned to Hong Kong on April 4, 2024. Photo: GovHK.
The National Security Education Study Tour organised by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government concluded and returned to Hong Kong on April 4, 2024. Photo: GovHK.

According to a statement issued on April 4, students were “were particularly moved and inspired by the arduous Long March of the Communist Party of China,” referring to a military retreat by the Red Army during the Chinese Civil War in 1934.

Audit slams Hongkong Post, dental services

Hong Kong’s official auditor in late-April criticised the Post Office, public dental services, bus operators and a government-funded NGO for failing to include national security clauses in contracts with various suppliers.

post officepost office
Hongkong Post. File photo: GovHK.

The Audit Commissioner released reports on April 24 covering eight government sectors. While examining their spending and efficiency, it also urged various departments to safeguard national security in accordance with the Beijing-drafted law enacted in June 2020.

Ex-Tiananmen vigil venue applied for Carnival

Pro-Beijing groups in Hong Kong are seeking to organise a carnival in part of Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park, where annual vigils were held for decades to mark the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. The event period is set to cover the crackdown’s 35th anniversary on June 4.

tiananmen massacre vigil 31st 2020 june 4 victoria parktiananmen massacre vigil 31st 2020 june 4 victoria park
The Tiananmen vigil at Victoria Park, on June 4, 2020. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) told HKFP that an organisation had applied to use the football pitches, central lawn and basketball courts for a public event between May 27 and June 8. The application was being handled at the moment, the department said.

Anti-terror hotline

Hong Kong police have received over 28,000 tip-offs via the anti-terrorism hotline since its launch in June 2022, including reports of suspected possession of weapons and suspected harbouring of explosives.

Police told HKFP on April 24 that public vigilance against terrorism increased as the authorities heightened promotion and educational efforts, and encouraged residents to report suspicious activity.

Latest prosecution and arrest figures

As of April 23, 291 people had been arrested for suspected breaches of national security since the legislation was enacted, the Security Bureau told HKFP. Among them, 175 people and five companies had been charged under the national security law or the sedition law or with other crimes.

Of those charged, 114 people – including 33 charged under the security law itself – have been convicted or are awaiting sentencing.

Type of Story: Explainer

Provides context or background, definition and detail on a specific topic.

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