On July 1, police in Hong Kong made their first arrests under the new national security law passed in China on June 30. A large protest occurred at Causeway Bay but was met with riot police. According to CNN, at least 370 arrests were made, with 10 under suspicion of violating the new law. July 1 marks the anniversary of the Hong Kong handover from British to Chinese control, and CNN notes that the day normally comes with mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. However, with the passage of the new law, scattered crowds showed up to protests, all risking arrest for newly established crimes. Critics of the new law claim that it effectively strips Hong Kong of its autonomy and democratic freedoms, according to CNN.
Professor Isabella Ng explained the uncertainty brought about by the new law: “You can say this law is just targeting protesters and anti-Chinese politicians, but it could be anyone. Where is the line to draw?” A passerby who only gave the initials JM to CNN discussed using a VPN and the possibility of having to leave Hong Kong: “It’s hard to not self-censor. I think most people will be more cautious. Even though I don’t want to leave (Hong Kong) it’s time that I need to think about it.” Officials outside Hong Kong have also voiced their concerns. The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, called the law a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy.” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the law, stating that the law is a “crucial step to ending chaos and violence that has occurred over the past few months.” She added that “the national security law is the most important development in securing ties between China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since the handover.”
The law was passed on June 30 by the Chinese central government, which outlawed sedition, secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The maximum penalty for violating the law is life in prison. According to CNN, the law has been met with criticism from Hong Kong lawmakers, international human rights groups, and governments. Many claim that the law will erode Hong Kong people’s democratic freedoms and bring an end to the “one country two systems” policy. Countries like the United Kingdom and Taiwan have offered asylum to Hong Kong people looking to leave the city. China has denied that the law will hamper Hong Kong people’s freedoms, stating that it will uphold and strengthen the “one country two systems” policy, according to the Guardian.
The law has been described by Chinese officials as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the heads of dissidents in Hong Kong, according to Bloomberg. Hong Kong police have been quick to enact the law and make arrests. Those arrested will soon be tried under the new national security law, and the world will wait to see how harsh a punishment they receive. A life sentence would certainly serve as a stark warning to protesters in Hong Kong that China will no longer allow political dissent in the city.