China’s new security law for Hong Kong has struck the region after legal experts concluded the bill seeks to fundamentally change the region’s legal system. The Beijing-led legislation seeks to criminalize actions of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with extreme punishments. These actions include breaking away from the country, undermining the authority of the Chinese government, using violence or intimidation against people, and clashing with external forces. Actions such as damaging public transport and protesting can fall into these categories, and punishments for actions deemed as criminal can warrant a life sentence in prison.
More provisions of the law are recorded as follows: those suspected of criminal behaviour can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance, some court cases will be tried in mainland China, some trials will be conducted privately. Those found guilty will be ineligible to run for public office and Beijing will hold supreme authority over the interpretation of the law. Furthermore, online records show books authored by renowned pro-democracy activists such as Joshua Wong and Tanya Chen have disappeared. This move brings into question if even academic freedom in the region is at risk.
The bill was reportedly enacted with only a small, select group of individuals viewing the articles beforehand. Prominent individuals, such as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, were among those who were unable to view the bill prior to its enactment. Several of these people were assured the law would not pose a risk to Hong Kong’s autonomy or independent legal system. However, political experts and legal analysts have concluded otherwise, expressing concern over the law’s intent to weaken Hong Kong’s judiciary system and resemble mainland China’s more.
Chinese officials have defended the bill relentlessly, stating its goal is to merely reinstate stability in the region after year-long protests and targets only a small minority of the population. However, intense fear has swept the region after police began arresting people on petty grounds, such as holding pro-independence slogans and protest displays shortly after the law’s enactment.
Human rights groups and legal experts cite the law’s ‘broad wording’ as highly alarming, and believe the ambiguous nature of the bill is deliberate. For instance, Article 29 of the law states that anyone who plots with foreigners to elicit hatred of the Chinese government or Hong Kong authorities can possibly be charged with a criminal offence. When Hong Kong’s Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng was asked if this included criticism of China’s current governing party, she failed to provide a clear-cut answer.
China’s drastic move has evoked widespread international condemnation in response. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson identified the law as a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration. Leading powers such as the U.K. and Australia have offered safe refuge to Hongkongers as well. However, over fifty countries led by Cuba supported China at the UN last week.
The new security law has seemingly changed Hong Kong’s plight overnight, and the future of its distinct political-activist culture remains uncertain. Activist groups have noted the law seeks to strip Hong Kong of rights and freedoms once previously offered to the region. Many worry the law will further secure Beijing’s power over the region and contribute to the erasure of its autonomy.
Moreover, many ponder if this move will mark the end of “one country, two systems,” the guiding principle that allows Hong Kong to maintain limited democracy and civil liberties under mainland China’s control. Notable pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has declared the move as “the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before.” Nonetheless activists have vowed to continue fighting for Hong Kong’s freedom and democracy for the city’s future generations, emphasizing that the fight persists when justice fails.