Hong Kong: Law passed to give government more powers to curb dissent

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong lawmakers unanimously approved a New National Security Act Widely seen as the latest step in a major political crackdown sparked by pro-democracy protests in 2019, it gives the government more power to quash dissent.

Parliament passed the National Security Bill in a special session. The law would expand authorities' ability to prosecute citizens, including for “collusion with outside forces” to commit illegal acts.

It comes on top of a similar security law imposed in Beijing in 2020 that has already largely silenced dissent in the financial center.

Hong Kong's legislature is filled with Beijing loyalists Following electoral restructuring, rushed the approval of the law. from Bill published On March 8, following an appeal by Hong Kong President John Lee, a committee held daily meetings to push the law “at full speed”. After the vote, the law will take effect on Saturday, Lee said.

“Today is a historic moment for Hong Kong,” he said.

Critics worry the new law will further erode civil liberties that Beijing pledged to protect for 50 years when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The newly approved law threatens stiff penalties for a wide range of actions that officials call threats to national security, with the most severe — including sedition and sedition — punishable by life in prison. Lesser offenses, including possession of seditious publications, can lead to years in prison. Some laws allow criminal prosecution for acts committed anywhere in the world.

Legislative committee chairman Andrew Leung said in the morning that he believes all lawmakers are honored to have participated in this “historic mission.” Council presidents generally do not participate in such voting. This time, however, Leung registered his ballot to mark the occasion.

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John Burns, emeritus professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong, said the process reflected the city's “weak disability accountability system by design”.

He said the legislators had scrutinized the bill in detail and the government had accepted some of the amendments proposed by the legislators. However, Burns said during the debate, many lawmakers focused on ways to expand the state's reach on national security matters and increase penalties for related crimes. He said that the administration officials were happy to oblige them.

“For those concerned about responsible government, this process is disappointing, but not surprising, given the centrally imposed changes from 2020,” Burns said.

Simon Young, a professor at the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Law, said the legislature did more than “rubber-stamp” the law, noting that officials attended lengthy meetings to clarify and revise the bill. But Young said lawmakers in the past may have sought expert input.

“It is regrettable that this was not done in this instance,” he said.

But Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong said on Tuesday that the law meant a strong “firewall” had been built for the city's stability and prosperity, allowing it to focus on boosting economic growth and improving people's livelihoods. Lee added that other countries have enacted laws to address risks when necessary.

Hong Kong's political landscape has changed dramatically, with massive street protests in 2019 challenging China's rule in the semi-autonomous territory and imposing Beijing's national security law.

Several leading activists have been prosecuted, while others have taken refuge abroad. Influential pro-democracy media such as Apple Daily and Stand News were shut down. The crackdown prompted an exodus of disillusioned young professionals and middle-class families to the United States, Britain, Canada, and Taiwan.

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Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, will enact the city's own national security law. An earlier attempt in 2003 sparked a massive street protest that drew half a million people and forced the law, which became known locally. Article 23, will be shelved. Due to the chilling effect of the current defense legislation, such protests against the current bill are largely absent.

The Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the law imposed by Beijing has restored stability after the 2019 protests.

Officials insist the new security law balances security with protecting rights and freedoms. The city government said it was necessary to prevent a recurrence of protests and would only affect “a very small minority”.

The new law includes tougher penalties for those accused of endangering national security for certain crimes found working with foreign governments or organizations as opposed to acting on their own. For example, it targets those who damage public infrastructure with the intention of endangering the state and can be sentenced to 20 years in prison or life in prison if they collude with outside forces. In 2019, protesters occupied Hong Kong's airport and vandalized train stations.

Businessmen and journalists have reported Fears Such a broad legislation would affect their day-to-day work.

Observers are watching closely to see if the authorities will expand enforcement to other professional sectors and how that will affect the freedoms of Hong Kongers.

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Dürk condemned the hasty adoption of the bill.

“For such an important piece of legislation, with a significant impact on human rights, to be passed without thorough debate and meaningful consultation is a retrograde step towards protecting human rights in Hong Kong,” he said in a statement.

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Michael McCaul, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that “China's takeover of the legal, economic and political system makes it clear that Hong Kong is no longer a safe place even for those who believe in democracy”. A place to conduct global business.”

Last week, a group of four U.S. lawmakers, who lead two congressional committees on China, urged Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to review travel advisories for Hong Kong, allow Hong Kong officials responsible for the law, and remove diplomatic privileges and immunities from three Hong Kongers. Offices in the United States

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Associated Press writer TD Tang in Washington contributed to this report.

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