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The National Security Law, Article 23, in Hong Kong was expedited due to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party.
The National Security Law, Article 23, in Hong Kong was expedited due to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party.

The National Security Law, Article 23, in Hong Kong was expedited due to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party.

The city of Hong Kong is likely to approve a new local law on national security, raising concerns about the impact on civil liberties that have already been threatened by the 2020 National Security Law imposed by China. This legislation is required by Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Past attempts to introduce this law in 2003 resulted in a large protest march on June 1, with approximately 500,000 participants forcing officials to withdraw the bill. The updated version of the bill was initially proposed in January and is now being expedited through the normal legislative process, largely due to pressure from China. It is expected to be implemented by mid-April. According to Chan Ho-him and William Langley of the Financial Times, this bill will strengthen penalties for actions deemed to jeopardize national security by the city’s government.

The document was released on Friday, in anticipation of a special gathering of Hong Kong’s pro-China legislative body and shortly following the conclusion of a public survey.

John Lee, the leader of the city, has urged lawmakers to pass it rapidly. China’s vice-premier Ding Xuexiang also stated this week that the city should expeditiously approve the law.

The law imposes a sentence of life in prison for acts of treason or rebellion and increases the maximum punishment for sedition from two years to seven years.

Individuals who are convicted of stealing state secrets may be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison under the proposed legislation. The scope of what constitutes state secrets has been expanded to include information related to the economic, social, technological, or scientific advancements of Hong Kong or mainland China. [Source]

According to a report from David Pierson at The New York Times, the Hong Kong government has justified the law by stating their reasons, but experts worry that it could lead to a decrease in human rights in the city.

Mr. Lee, the current leader of Hong Kong, stated that the new law is vital in order to address loopholes in the previous national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020. This law was used to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations and imprison those who opposed the government. Mr. Lee has portrayed Hong Kong as a city facing increasing national security risks, particularly from the American and British intelligence agencies.

According to Thomas Kellogg, the executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, this legislation will greatly affect human rights and the legal system in Hong Kong. It is evident that the government is continuously broadening its range of national security measures in order to suppress political adversaries.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association has expressed worries about the law due to its potential effects on press freedom. Similarly, the Bar Association of Hong Kong suggested that the definition of sedition in the law should specify intent to incite violence in order to limit the scope of the offense. However, this language was not included in the draft of the law.

The legislation revealed on Friday suggests prolonging the period of detention for individuals suspected of threatening national security without charging them to a maximum of 14 days, from the previous limit of two days. It also grants the police the authority to request to prevent a suspect from seeking counsel if receiving legal advice is considered harmful to national security. [Source]

Xinqi Su, the Hong Kong correspondent for AFP, shared a Twitter thread discussing the implications of the newly implemented law, which enforces harsher punishments and creates regulations that could disrupt the law’s typical functionality.

The government of Hong Kong states that there is widespread support for the law, with a reported 99% approval rate from a recent public consultation. However, out of over 13,000 submissions, only 93 individuals and organizations publicly opposed the law. A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government dismissed 10 of these opponents as “overseas anti-China organizations and abscondees.” This year’s consultation received much less public engagement, with only 15% of the responses compared to the 90,000 generated during the previous consultation for the shelved Article 23 bill, which sparked protests in 2003. Eric Lai, a researcher at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, stated to BBC Chinese that the rushed nature of the consultation and legislation process has given the impression that it was merely a formality.

The government of Beijing is putting pressure on the Hong Kong government to take action quickly. During a press meeting at the National People’s Congress on Thursday, Chan Yung, a delegate from Hong Kong, reported that Chinese Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang, who leads the Party’s central leading group on Hong Kong, urged the Hong Kong government to pass the new bill as soon as possible in a closed-door meeting. Ding also urged Hong Kong legislators to strengthen patriotic education, which is a top priority for the Party both domestically and in Hong Kong. The education system in Hong Kong has already undergone significant changes after the 2020 National Security Law was passed. At the government-controlled publication Global Times, Chen Qingqing quoted an expert aligned with Beijing who disregarded criticism of the bill, stating that it is comparable to laws in democratic countries.

According to Willy Fu, a law professor and director of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, the sentencing criteria for these offenses are suitably strict and conform with the principles of the rule of law, international standards, and customary practices. This was stated on Friday to the Global Times.

The main goal of punishment is to effectively communicate to both criminals and potential offenders that there will be serious repercussions for their behavior. This acts as a deterrent and contributes to upholding national security, social harmony, and the greater good, according to him.

According to Fu, the consequences for violating national security laws in countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, and Singapore are more intricate, stricter, and have more severe punishments. In contrast, the highest punishment for violating these laws in the US is death.

Experts stated that once the vulnerabilities in national security are resolved, Hong Kong will be able to achieve a more secure social setting. This will enable the city to focus on improving its economic status and tackling issues related to people’s well-being.

The bill has faced backlash from various international governments and organizations. British foreign minister David Cameron personally appealed to the Hong Kong government to rethink the bill, but this drew fierce criticism from the Chinese government who accused him of deliberately discrediting Hong Kong’s human rights, freedoms, and lawful systems. Canada and several European Union member states have stated their intent to send diplomatic messages opposing the bill to the Hong Kong government. More than 80 international human rights groups have come together to issue a joint statement denouncing the bill.

The city’s rapidly decreasing civil liberties have limited the amount of domestic pushback. The Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed their opposition to the law, stating that expanding the definition of sedition to include anyone who intends to incite hatred between residents of Hong Kong or with other parts of China would restrict freedom of speech and the press. Criticism also came from unexpected sources, such as government advisor Regina Ip, who previously oversaw the failed attempt to introduce the law in 2003. Ip criticized the broad definition of “foreign forces” in the law. According to Kahon Chan and Willa Wu of the South China Morning Post.

Regina Ip, who held the position of security chief during the failed 2003 attempt to pass the legislation, raised doubts about the classification of an organization comprised solely of members from one specific location as an “international organization”. This would, in turn, make it subject to be labeled an “external force” under the new law.

“Would you prefer to only mention Taiwan? Why not explicitly state ‘Taiwan’ in a clause, such as the Societies Ordinance, for clarification?”

Officials have avoided using the term “foreign forces” and have instead chosen to use “external forces” in order to not consider Taiwan as a foreign entity. This is due to China’s belief that Taiwan should be reunited with the country in the future. [Source]

One individual suggested during the consultation period that the government should prohibit the usage of Facebook, Youtube, Signal, and Telegram (a secure messaging platform widely used in Hong Kong during the protests in 2019). These four platforms are currently inaccessible in China. The Hong Kong government maintains that it does not intend to restrict access to these apps.