Jimmy Lai, a billionaire media tycoon who played a vital part in the 2019 pro-democracy protests, was sentenced to 14 months in prison on charges of unauthorized assembly. In August 2020, 200 police officers raided the newsroom of Apple Daily, the tabloid newspaper founded by Mr. Lai, a highly critical newspaper of mainland China’s involvement in Hong Kong. Hong Kong officials arrested Mr. Lai for his role in two protests in 2019. Although the protests occurred before enacting the Hong Kong national security law, officially known as ‘The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,’ the law was used to convict Mr. Lai.
The conviction of Mr. Lai and other prominent figures showcases the power of the new law in controlling Hong Kong natives. Reuters reports that the Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director believes “the wrongful prosecution, conviction and sentencing of these activists underlines the … government’s intention to eliminate all political opposition.”
While the national security law cracks down on those protesting, a mass “education” campaign has started within Hong Kong schools. The Guardian reports that kindergarten students in Hong Kong are being taught to celebrate the new legal code by playing with national security-themed puzzles and police toys holding signs synonymous with the protests. The main goal of the city’s National Security Education day is to “uphold national security [and] safeguard our homeland” for future generations.
The prison sentence of Jimmy Lai and other prominent individuals showcases the eroding rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Due to the Hong Kong security bill, no matter how powerful individuals may be, they could face legal ramifications for speaking out against the central government. The bill goes against Hongkongers ability to exercise their freedom of speech, formerly protected under Article 27 of Hong Kong Basic Law and Article 16 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. Under these provisions, acts of peaceful assembly can be struck down if deemed a threat, including the Hong Kong government’s ability to dismiss politicians if they speak against the central authority in Beijing. The Hong Kong national security law can be detrimental to human rights in Hong Kong if enacted to its full powers. The sections of the law include “secession,” “subversion,” “terrorism,” and “collusion with foreign forces,” which are broad and could be implemented by the central government at their discretion. If someone has an opinion, their opinion can be viewed as a threat to national security.
Jimmy Lai’s arrest can be traced back to 1997 when Hong Kong was handed back to China from British control. The de facto constitution, entitled the Basic Law, implemented a unique “one country, two systems” agreement between China and Hong Kong. However, within the Basic Law, there was no mention of national security crimes. Due to there being no national security crimes section, the Chinese government pushed for Article 23, the national-security law, into the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Since its implementation, crackdowns of pro-democracy activists have occurred. On January 6th, 2021, the biggest crackdown transpired when 53 former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists were arrested.
The total number arrested for breaching national security law has surpassed 100 as of April 2021.
With the imprisonment of Jimmy Lai and high-ranking political figures, there is a growing fear among pro-democracy people that the autonomy of Hong Kong is fading. In Beijing, an electoral vote by 3,000 NPC delegates approved to change the constitution further, ensuring that no one who opposed China’s ruling over Hong Kong is eligible to sit in the city’s parliament – another step towards removing power from Hong Kong.